The summer holidays are very much over. Kids are back at school, even reception new starters, with their extended settling in period. So how can we keep the focus on more flexibility at work?
School’s back for autumn
Now I’m going to assume that as a modern switched on man, you worked hard to rearrange your work schedule both in a pragmatic childcare way and because you wanted to be there to help make memories with your children.
It makes sense, because your kids are only young once and the practical imperative of arranging childcare when you are working parents demands a level of organisation and juggling that I’m only too aware of as a primary carer to my 9 and 6-year-old. In fact, I have a day by day spreadsheet with holidays, play dates and summer camp all carefully logged, and colour coded.
If you don’t do this, then there’s a fair chance your partner does, not because they want to, but because it’s how you make sense of 6 weeks or more of holidays.
If you currently use a nursery that is open 50 weeks a year, then you’ll need to know that the logistical challenge of school hours is heading your way!
To Flex or not to Flex?
With the return to school, the pressure of needing flexible working to support the practical challenge of childcare is definitely less pressing.
So, what now?
You could go back to your ‘regular’ schedule, but you’d be missing a trick and an opportunity. It’s time to convert the trust and goodwill of summer flexible working into something more permanent.
Now seeking out more flexible working arrangements aren’t for everyone and every family. It might be important for you to work hard to provide for your family, to build the life that you and you partner have mapped out. Gender roles give great comfort.
But I want to be really clear – it’s so important that you have both been open and honest about your family objectives. It does no-one any good if there is resentment about income or work life balance from either side. Open and honest communication about how satisfied you both are is key.
It’s time to make sure you aren’t a “secret dad.”
Feigned illness, phantom client meetings and “my wife is ill, I have to work from home.” They’re all tricks of the trade when it comes to getting more time with your family. But it’s important that you don’t treat your children as you would a meeting with that recruiter who promises the world.
You might work in a job where ad hoc flexibility just happens, you’re trusted to do what is required but think of the dads who don’t have that type of workplace. We all have a duty to show the world that wanting to be an active and involved father isn’t a strange character flaw, because the casual expectations around the role of men and women when raising kids trap men as easily as they prevent women reaching their full potential in the workplace.
It’s important to show the world that flexible working isn’t just a “perk” for women with kids.
Because when men get turned down for flexible work, just because they are men, we miss out the opportunity to use flexible working to solve the challenge of “how to be a great dad and have a great career.”
We need to do something about the stat that shows that less than 1 in 5 (19%) men who requested to work from home on one or two days a week, had the request granted.
Some practical suggestions
- Build your networks and collaborate with other dads and mums (who often have access to the work patterns you want).
- Construct your business case.
- Show leadership where you can – be more like Bill…
Earlier this year Melinda Gates wrote a LinkedIn article called “The massive, hidden cost of women’s unpaid work”
In it she told a story of the impact that Bill Gates had on the behaviours of his Microsoft staff:
“When Jenn started kindergarten in the fall of 2001, we found a school that was ideal for her, but it was thirty or forty minutes away and across a bridge, and I knew I would be driving back and forth from home to school twice a day. When I complained to Bill about all the time I would be spending in the car, he said, “I can do some of that.” And I said, “Seriously? You’ll do that?” “Sure,” he said. “It’ll give me time to talk with Jenn.”
So Bill started driving. He’d leave our house, drop Jenn at school, turn around, drive back past our neighborhood and on to Microsoft. Twice a week he did that. About three weeks in, on my days, I started noticing a lot of dads dropping kids off in the classroom. So I went up to one of the moms and said, “Hey, what’s up? There are a lot of dads here.” She said, “When we saw Bill driving, we went home and said to our husbands, ‘Bill Gates is driving his child to school; you can, too.’
Easy to do? Not always.
Not everyone has the privilege to do what Bill Gates did. The culture of your workplace, your boss’s attitudes and the risk to your long-term career progression are all factors in play.
But if you want to be there for your kids, you’re going to need to step out of your comfort zone to make a difference. It won’t be easy, but as American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said “There’s no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.”
Ultimately if you want to get the type of flexible working arrangement that was necessary during the summer holidays then you’re going to need to put some effort in.
As Freed and Millar conclude in their book “Dads Don’t Babysit – Towards Equal Parenting”
“It’s up to men to change the equality puzzle by putting themselves into the picture and changing what it means to “be a man.” [we’ve] had the power to make change all along, but now… we must use that power”
Your action tip from me?
Check when the harvest festival is and add it to your diary. Properly. Because your kids are only young once and there’s nothing as cute as hearing your little one singing along with their new friends.