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Counting the Cost of Work-Family Conflict in Workplaces: Review of the National Working Families Report Launch

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“It’s obvious that we are not shifting fast enough on tackling work-family conflict and it’s costing our Nation greatly. It comes at a cost to women’s wellbeing, their career progression and pay equity. It comes at a cost to men’s wellbeing, who continue to feel the burden of being the primary breadwinner and are often denied the opportunity to share parental leave, or work flexibly due to gendered policies and societal traditional norms. And it comes at a cost to our children’s wellbeing and future life outcomes.”

- Emma Walsh, CEO Parents At Work

The full National Working Families Report 2019 was officially released in Sydney yesterday. The industry launch brought together the wider business community, alongside industry leaders, to discuss the results and recommendations of the report.

Noel McNamara welcomes industry leaders.

The report has been derived from the National Working Families Survey that collected information and experiences from over 6200 Australian working parents and carers about the impact of managing work and caring responsibilities. This survey aimed to better understand the future of work needs of families to determine what employers and government can do to best support them.

The report was initiated by not-for-profit employer group APLEN (Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network) and conducted by Parents At Work.  CEOs and Executives gathered from HSBC, ING, UNICEF, PEXA, QBE Insurance Australia, Karitane, Sydney University, Women’s Agenda at an Industry Launch to share the findings calling for more action from employers to support working families through better paid parental leave, flexible work and child care policies designed to support both men and women share caring responsibilities.

As Noel McNamara, Acting CEO of HSBC Australia, said in his opening address, "We are going from the expectation of 'this is how it is' to 'this is something that can really change."

“As some of the leading companies in our country, we must take responsibility and be role models to change the status quo,” said Ming Long, Non Executive Director of QBE, in her keynote address. “It’s clear that the current state [of work/life integration] is not good enough. Progress is too slow, and not making a difference to one of the most fundamental structures in our society that binds us altogether – families.”

“We are facing into the fourth industrial revolution. The workforce will change, roles will change, and expectations of current and future talent will change. Technical capability is no longer enough - we need humans. Humans who love, care, empathise, have compassion, adapt, and have a resilience learnt from negotiating with a smaller human, who have very little communication skills, armed with very little sleep.”

– Ming Long, Non Executive Director, QBE

A panel discussion focused on key issues that arose from the report findings and recommendations, from how employers and government can redesign the workplace to be more family-friendly, to Australia’s current work and family policies, to the important business case of gender-equal parental leave and why this needs to change for the future of work and fatherhood.

Gendered roles

Our panellists discussed the report's results and recommendations.

Professor Marian Baird, University of Sydney and Work and Family Roundtable Chair, addressed Australia’s current work and family policies and provided an expert perspective on the state of parental leave.

“We are in a period of major social transition,” said Professor Baird. “And men in Australia do have a responsibility to look after their families but so do women now too, so that issue of being a breadwinner is still very important but it’s important for men and women in Australia.”

This means the traditional role of ‘caregiver’ is being challenged and there’s an increased need for both parents to share the caring responsibilities. But stereotypes persist and the reality is that often the person in the relationship who earns the least often takes on the role of primary caregiver.

“It’s very hard to change gender roles, however we are seeing a shift, working parents are both wanting the same sort sorts of things [e.g. access to parental leave and flexible work) in the workplace.”

What needs to change

With two thirds of parents and carers reporting feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they get home from work to contribute to their family, it’s obvious that serious changes are needed within workplaces to provide better support.

Nicole Breeze, Director of Australian Programs and Child Rights at UNICEF, shared her thoughts on the redesign of the workplace to be more family-friendly, and the different ‘shifts’ that need to occur from governments and businesses in this space.

Blake Woodward and his baby were guests.

“The first shift is really moving from maternal to parental leave,” said Ms Breeze. “We are seeing some good change in that respect, and that’s ensuring all carer givers are enabled and supported to give that time [as a caregiver] … and shifting from a focus on infrastructure to a focus on people - so that’s really moving beyond the focus of safe working environments (e.g. breastfeeding facilities) and putting the focus on providing the support to people to live rounded lives.”

“The third is a shift to co-responsibility - so that’s a mindset shift that changes the way we think about parenting, from an individual’s responsibility through to thinking about a ‘diamond of care’ that a child needs – you’ve got the parents, you’ve got the community and you’ve got government …  Finally, there needs to be a shift around reducing parental stress to thinking about enhancing family wellbeing - that’s those strategies that are about promoting wellbeing for families.”

“Beyond those big shifts, some of the more specific measures we are looking to drive change with governments and business is around the time of paid parental leave. Really we are saying that best practice is that parents of both genders can access, combined with government and business support, a minimum of six months of paid parental leave.”

– Nicole Breeze, Director of Australian Programs and Child Rights, UNICEF

The companies leading the way

With the survey finding that common challenges to parents and carers were ‘household chores and caring work’ (50%) and ‘managing expectations at home’ (38%), the report recommendations include equalising parental leave and promoting ‘sharing the care’.

ING’s parental leave scheme is an example for others to follow, and Melanie Evans, ING’s Head of Retail Bank, shared how her company lead the way in best practice parental leave.

“At the end of August of this year, we announced that we were dropping the whole concept of primary and secondary care giving when it came to Parental Leave,” Ms Evans explained.

“The important thing here is not just saying all parents are created equal in terms of accessing leave, and breaking down those stigmas - but the flexibility in which you offer it to your team is absolutely critical if you want to [ensure] that first few months as a family is successful and indeed help one or two parents return to work.”

- Melanie Evans, Head of Retail Bank, ING

Another company leading the way in family-friendly policies is PEXA, and Linda Hibberd, Executive General Manager at PEXA shared insights into their new ground-breaking new parental leave, childcare policies and employee ‘wellbeing’ program. With 20% of those surveyed in the report stating ‘a lack of affordable childcare’ a major challenge, another recommendation is that organisations provide child care, which PEXA are leading the way on. PEXA offers a generous $1000 per month, per child.

Parents At Work CEO Emma Walsh.

“Some of these ideas came from our employees, like our [holiday school program] partnership with KidsCo,” said Ms Hibberd. “What I think underpins all of our policies, is you can have the policy but it’s also about how it’s brought to life through culture within the organisation. We have a really strong, caring and supportive culture, and we also have a really strong focus on continuous improvement.”

Ms Hibberd spoke about the incredible feedback their leading policies have received from both inside and outside the organisation.

“To be able to differentiate in any way is incredibly important …. the response we have received externally has been fantastic, but more importantly internally it’s what that has meant for our employees who do have children, and also others who don’t have children - that that’s the [level of] care the organisation provides to employees.”

Looking out for our dads

Another key recommendation from the report is to invest in employee mental health and wellbeing. Gus Worland, TV and Radio Presenter, Founder of GOTCHA4LIFE and men’s wellbeing advocate, spoke about the future of fatherhood and what needs to change, particularly the need to challenge society’s ideas of ‘masculinity’ and the devastating impact toxic masculinity can have on men’s mental health.

“Rather ‘man-up, shut-up’, which a lot of us were taught, it [needs to be] ‘man-up, speak-up’,” said Mr Worland. “Speak about how you feel. We’ve got to change the stereotype of what it takes to be a bloke - and a bloke has got to be able to be really happy with what it takes to be a man today, to even ask for some help if he needs it.”

‘Every single man out there, white collar, blue collar, in between colour - they are sponges at the moment, of what it takes to be a man. They want to talk. If you build a safe environment for a man to talk in, he’ll talk until the cows come home. It’s really tough out there for a lot of people … and it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s alright to bumble away through life. [We] are actually flying compared to a lot people in other countries, so let’s just take the pressure off each other.”

– Gus Worland, Founder of GOTCHA4LIFE

How can we create more family-friendly workplaces?

Karitane's Grainne O'Loughlin with Emma Walsh.

Parents At Work thank our wonderful speakers and panellists for being a part of this crucial discussion. The report findings are important, but what is even more important is what we now do with them, and is it only with industry leaders and representatives being involved in this conversation that the changes needed will come to fruition.

“The results are sobering,” concluded Grainne O’Loughlin, CEO of Karitane. “The challenges of the work/life impact and the very real impact [they have] on the physical and mental wellbeing on both men and women. The reason why Karitane was so pleased to sponsor this survey is that [yes], this is about the benefits to business - we’ve heard about productivity, staff retention; [yes], it’s about benefits to parents and the health and wellbeing - but more than that, it’s about the benefits for children and their wellbeing.”

“This report will springboard us into further action - to change those stereotypes and to shape the dialogue that will bring that major social transition.”

- Grainne O’Loughlin, CEO of Karitane

To read the full report findings and recommendations, download the report in full here, or visit the report website for more information.
Stay tuned on more information about becoming a Family Friendly Workplace in 2020. To register your interest, join the Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network (APLEN) or contact info@parentsatwork.com.au