Gary Cattermole: Millennial dads hit by work life balance

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The millennial generation is coming of age and having children of their own
The millennial generation is coming of age and having children of their own

Badge-EngagememtFor years working mums have been complaining about how to best juggle life as a mother and life in the workplace. New research reveals that millennial dads are now caught up in the same struggle of managing their work and family lives. Gary Cattermole, Director, The Survey Initiative, takes a closer look at what is going on and its implications for employee engagement…

Recently the Modern Families Index published its latest research into how families combine their personal and professional lives in the Sunday Times – the results were really quite interesting.  Nearly a half (42 percent) of all millennial dads – those born after 1980 – said that they felt burnt out most or all of the time. This figure compares to just 22 percent of fathers aged 36-45 and 17 percent of those aged over 45. About the same number of millennial dads (43 percent) would be willing to take a pay cut to find a better work life balance compared with 28 percent of all fathers. However 58 percent of millennial dads feel powerless to change their situation and admit to not feeling confident enough to ask their employer about reducing their hours, working from home or limiting the number of telephone calls or emails they deal with. As a result 42 percent of millennial dads felt resentment to their employers compared to 32 percent of dads overall.

The subject of work life balance is not a new one; it’s one that working mums have wrestled with for many years. In one respect it’s not surprising to find that dads with very young children feel the most tired, but it is also interesting to note the shift in pattern for more young dads to be more involved on an equal basis with their partner in family life. Perhaps with the rise in shared paternity / maternity leave, this will be a growing trend? But what does all this mean for the workplace?

For many HR departments, especially those that employ a high percentage of millennial dads, they may feel a sudden rise of panic and run off to create specially tailored work / life solutions for these young fathers. I would caution this approach, knee-jerk reactions seldom provide the right answer and could prove counterproductive. I think it is much more important to get to grips with levels of employee engagement amongst the entire workforce and create / improve wellbeing and work life programmes that provide a mix of options that can apply to everyone within the organisation. The problem is that as soon as you identify one group (and only provide solutions with that group in mind) as opposed others in your organisation, the ‘it’s not fair’ culture is born. Employees start to resent those seen as given special treatment. For example:  ‘why can’t I go home early too? – I work just as hard’ and then bitterness can filter through to other employees who were once fully engaged.

It’s interesting to note that in the dads surveyed a large proportion seemed too scared to ask for help from their managers. This comes down to two things: communication and culture.  In our experience communication is an area that the majority of companies fall down on in employee engagement surveys. Fixing it isn’t just about putting up an intranet or writing a newsletter, it can be much more beneficial to have greater communication between managers and employees on a regular basis. These meetings should also look at an individual’s wellbeing where issues with work life balance can be addressed on a one-to-one basis. Culture is an interesting one and it appears that the demographic at the school run may have leapt ahead of what millennial dads think is acceptable in the workplace. However with the rise of increased paternity leave, and even Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook, famously taking time off following the birth of his daughter, this is a changing landscape.

For many years businesses have offered employees work life balance ‘benefits’ in the workplace, such as yoga sessions or back and neck massages etc.to reduce levels of stress, which are good tactics to alleviate the situation, but a more strategic change offers far greater results. For example, thanks to the rise in technology it’s become commonplace to work from home. Meetings can be undertaken via Skype, communication via email or text is instant which saves on expensive and stressful journeys into the city. The majority of companies are also more than happy to offer flexible working conditions, such as 12 hour days or 7.30am starts instead of the traditional 9-5 to make up the 40 hour working week. Sometimes it’s simply about opening up your workplace culture to enable employees to feel it’s OK to ask.

In Sweden radical changes are afoot which could really shake-up employee engagement and the work life balance. Companies are signing up to a new six-hour working day in a bid to increase productivity and make people happier. The aim is to get employees to focus effort into just six hours to get more done in a shorter amount of time and ensure people have the energy to enjoy their work and private lives. Toyota centres in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, made the switch 13 years ago, with the company reporting happier staff, a lower turnover rate, and an increase in profits in that time. To aid staff in completing all tasks, guidelines have been created where employees are asked to stay off social media sites and involvement in other distractions while at work and meetings are kept to a minimum.

It’s an ever changing world, so my advice would be to keep on top of what’s going on in your workplace and create employee engagement / work life programmes that work for your organisation. Also, as a father to three little ones, all I can add is that as children get older the pressures do lessen as we all enjoy a few better nights sleep.

To discover more about employee engagement, visit www.surveyinitiative.co.uk.

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