Long hours rob fathers of childcare role at home

Combining a career with parenthood is tough. One or both parents in the majority of dual-income families work hours outside the...

Combining a career with parenthood is tough. One or both parents in the majority of dual-income families work hours outside the standard nine to five. And 33% of fathers find their job routinely takes them over the 48 hours a week limit set by the European Working Time Directive, writes Nathalie Towner.

Fathers in professional and managerial jobs work the longest hours and are least likely to be involved in their children's care, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Forty one per cent of working fathers start work between 6.30am and 8.30am and 45% regularly work between 5.30pm and 8.30pm. More than 50% work at least one Saturday a month.

IT professionals know it is not always possible to fulfil all their responsibilities between 9am and 5pm but if employers were to adopt a more flexible work policy it would allow staff to spend more time with their families.

Network manager Richard Castle does not wish to work less hours but if he had more flexibility he would be able to take his children to and from school. "Working in IT definitely is not ideal, some weekend work and being on call means having to go into work late at night," he says. "I would definitely want my next employer to have a flexible work policy."

Parents who work long hours or regularly work on Sundays are most likely to express dissatisfaction with the time they have for family activities. The study, nevertheless, suggests that atypical working is viewed as beneficial by some families, enabling parents to spend more time with their children.

Two-parent families are better placed to enjoy these opportunities than lone parents, for whom irregular hours and limited access to alternative childcare are especially problematic.

A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that the majority of parents (52%) believe that becoming a parent has affected their career. This belief is particularly likely to be held by women (72%). Of those questioned, 28% of women have actively downgraded their career since having children, compared to 9% of men.

Nearly half of the 503 respondents have changed job since becoming a parent. Women are twice as likely as men to cite family commitments or lack of family friendly policies as a primary reason for the change. Women are also three times more likely to have changed their working patterns than men, with only 20% continuing to work the same hours as previously.

But it could be that men have less opportunity to alter their work hours. According to the survey, men perceive lower levels of support than women - 40% rate their employer as "very understanding" about their parental commitments, compared to 54% of women.

It is impossible to tell from the research whether this reflects the true situation or whether men perceive that they are treated differently. However, new employment laws that will take effect from April 2003 will give parents the right to have their case for flexible working arrangements heard by employers.

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