The Best Father's Day Present Would Be Flexible Working Hours

If there is any evidence of the importance of a dad who both works and cares simultaneously, it is right here in my heart.

02/09/2016 11:12 AM AEST | Updated 02/09/2016 11:36 AM AEST
"If my dad as a role model has left me with any legacy, it is that a great dad is a great man."

This Sunday is Father's Day in Australia and a day to focus on the important role fathers and men in fathering roles play in families.

Reminders of the amazing man my father was are everywhere and I realise that I am a very privileged daughter. I was raised in a family with two working parents where my dad did as many school pick-ups, cooked as many meals and did as much caring as my mother. He treated my mother with utmost respect, valued his daughters as much as his son and co-cared for my maternal grandmother for over 16 years as she faded away from Alzheimer's disease -– it was an honour, he said.

If there is any evidence of the importance of a dad who both works and cares simultaneously, it is right here in my heart, and not a day goes by that I don't value the man he was.

Unfortunately, not all men feel enabled and entitled to balance their work and family commitments in a meaningful way. They are the worse for it, as are their daughters and sons.

Diversity Council Australia's Men Get Flexible! research conducted in 2012 found a significant number of men desire greater access to flexible work than they currently have and this is especially the case for young fathers. Some 37 percent of young fathers indicated that they had seriously considered leaving their organisation because of a lack of flexibility.

Not much has changed since then, with recent Monash University research finding an employment and social context that assumes and privileges care responsibility to the mother and full time work and earning to the father.

International research has revealed that Australian families are lagging behind families in comparable nations when it comes to sharing care of children, and that has an impact on the choices that men and women can make in the workplace.

The Fairness in Families Index (FiFI) is a measure created by the Fatherhood Institute UK to assess how well-developed countries were fairing in relation to egalitarian parenting and earning. Overall, Australia ranked 13th out of 21 countries, behind the UK and New Zealand in the measures for gender equality in paid and unpaid work.

While the results showed an improvement in Australia's ranking, Australia could be doing more to support working families.

When both parents are able to spend time with their children, workplaces and families benefit.

Our research found men who have greater access to flexible work are more effective in their jobs, report higher work performance, are less troubled by work overload and take fewer risks that can compromise productivity.

Moreover, they are absent for fewer days and have lower levels of personal stress and burnout and work-life interference or conflict.

Flexibility at work opens up options for fathers, at work and at home. It gives fathers the freedom to share parenting and household management at home – and provides new and innovative ways of working to build meaningful and satisfying careers.

Organisations can do a lot more to engage men in flexible working and the first step is to foster a culture that is supportive of flexible work for men. This means pro-actively encouraging men to engage in flexible work and providing opportunities for them to share their experiences of flexible work.

It also means actively addressing men's reluctance to use flexible work for fear of career penalties by designing new roles with flexibility as standard, integrating flexibility into senior roles and illustrating 'success stories'.

Australia's demographics have changed. More men want and need to balance their work and family commitments – they don't always want to conform to the ideal 'full-time' worker model and have different priorities and aspirations, including wanting to be active fathers.

On Sunday, let's reflect on what more we can do to make flexible working more attainable for all fathers. If my dad as a role model has left me with any legacy, it is that a great dad is a great man.

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