Daddy daycare: pandemic opens door to more flexible work for fathers

Photo: Supplied (Rob Sturrock)
Photo: Supplied (Rob Sturrock) 

While there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting a raft of challenges for parents, there are also silver linings. 

With parents across the country being forced to work from home, flexibility is finally on the table for thousands of fathers who have traditionally faced barriers when it comes to accessing flexible working arrangements. 

According to Dr Ashlee Borgkvist, a researcher from the Centre for Workplace Excellence at the University of South Australia, the working from home phenomenon is providing significant benefits for dads (or the non-primary caregiver) to play and engage with their families, while also delivering clear evidence for employers that it can work.

Photo: Supplied (Rob Sturrock)
Photo: Supplied (Rob Sturrock) 

"In Australia, most dads tend to work full-time, limiting the time they can spend with their families," Dr Borgkvist says. "Now, as so many businesses have shifted to work-from-home scenarios, the current norm is changing, with everyone – children, families and workplaces – realising the benefits," 

While flexible or part-time work arrangements are available to most Australian fathers through their employer, very few have accessed them until now. 

"Concerningly, we've seen very little movement among Australian fathers to work more flexibly, with statistics showing barely any growth over the past 10 years."

"The reasons why are multifaceted," explains Dr Borgkivist. "And are often linked to men's perceptions of the ideal worker, workplace cultures, and long-held constructions of masculinity." 

"It's now that fathers will be able to show how working from home can be as productive, if not more so, than working in an office. And in turn, boost their confidence that working at home is an acceptable and possible workplace construct."

While there has been some shift in family employment patterns over the past 40 years, data shows that the majority of fathers with children under 12 are in full-time work, while mothers work on average 28 hours a week

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Dad-of-two Rob Sturrock is no stranger to flexible working arrangements. He is one of the four per cent of Australian dads who work part-time to care for his children during the week and has written extensively about juggling the responsibilities of home and work.

The Sydney-based author admits dealing with the COVD-19 crisis has been "an eye-opener" for everyone.

"One of the silver linings may just be that thousands more employers realise that a dad working from home still gets the job done while caring for his kids," he tells Essential Baby.

"I think many dads are also realising how hard it is for mums shouldering the mental load of running a house while juggling child caring and paid work."

While Sturrock acknowledges how incredibly stressful this period is for parents as work and home life "rapidly merge together", he also hopes we are able to hold on to the positives. 

"Parents may be feeling an unease or stress about their altered reality," he says. "But I do really hope that dads see that working flexibly allows them to steal more precious, amazing moments with their kids, and shows them that being a father means care and nurturing as well as earning a paycheck and clocking hours for the boss.

He believes kids are now "at the heart" of a new way of working.

"For many of my dad colleagues, their kids are now at the centre of their conversations about work and deadlines, and even pop up regularly on zoom meetings!"

Sydney mum-of-two Nadine Barnier works part-time from home and her husband now works from home full-time due to the social distancing measures.

While there have been plenty of challenges trying to juggle their competing demands and adjustments to the household layout, Barnier has observed some benefits. 

"My husband is able to take the kids for a walk at lunchtime," she says. "All in all it's a much calmer house with him working at home and not having to commute every day."

Dr Borgkvist agrees that more organisations need to model and support flexible working arrangements for dads - or the "main breadwinner" - into the future. 

"COVID-19 might have been the catalyst for forced workplace flexibility, but the lessons we take from this unprecedented time could be extraordinarily positive."