-What would help parents and carers most to reduce the struggle of the juggle?

The answer … greater flexibility. Nearly half (44%) of Australian working parents and carers told us that they would like to have more control over when and where they work – that this was the number one sticking point to help them manage their work and family responsibilities more effectively. Other factors included more:

  • Access to childcare support from their employer
  • Role models championing family friendly work practices
  • Reduced job pressure and workload

6,289 parents and carers completed the 2019 National Working Families Survey.

What’s concerning about these results is that despite many employers mainstreaming flexible work policies over the past decade, culturally it appears working flexibility in order to care for family is still not fully embedded or seen as acceptable, particularly for men, and it’s managers who continue to be the gate-keepers to successful implementation of flexible work practices.

Access to Flexible Work – the real story

  • Two-thirds of parents (64 per cent) report that it is more acceptable for women to use family-friendly work options than for men.
  • Men faced more barriers accessing flexible work, citing the reason for this being the potential negative impact it might have on their career and reputation, how they might be perceived by colleagues/manager and/or whether they could afford it.
  • Nearly half (46%) of all parents in the study said that a workers’ commitment to their job was questioned if they used family-friendly work arrangements

What they actually said

“[I’m] scared to ask [for flexibility] ... [there are] inconsistencies in individual managers' level of flexibility.”

“I had a flexible work arrangement in place until a colleague complained which led to the arrangement being altered to suit the colleagues needs.”

“Didn't make a formal request but raised it with manager. He strongly discouraged me from making formal request.”

“I need to be seen to be at work; people who work from home are the first to face redundancies.”

“Caring for sick kids while managing work is difficult. While flexible work is approved, it’s the messaging at the workplace around - "managing sick kids while working from home is not possible, so please take sick leave"; "bringing kids to work during school holidays means no one gets any work done", is very discouraging.”

The key issues

  • Managers / employers are ill-equipped or not aware of the various options and business benefits (i.e. greater productivity) when employees are able to work flexibly.
  • Bias and discrimination against parents and carers is still very high. Fear of asking for flexible work arrangements is common – mostly from fear of it having repercussions on their career or how they are perceived as a worker.
  • Men as carers is still not taken seriously and women are still pigeon-holed as the primary carer.

What can employers do to embed flexibility in the workplace?

1. Identify and invest in flexible work practices that will support your business and people - Consider the vast array of flexible working options available that can be accommodated and implemented in your workplace – trial these to see what works best for your business and people. The most common type of flexible work approach parents and carers want is flexibility around the standard hours of work and where they work.

2. Culture is key - Cultivate a healthy work-life culture that reflect the values and policies of your organisation. Walk the talk at all levels of the organisation – it’s counter-productive to have a flexible work policy but not embed it in reality. Challenge the stigmas and myths around flexible working.

3. Train managers on the importance embedding flexible work. Often it is individual line managers that present the biggest barriers for employees accessing flexible work.

4. Learn from other organisations doing it well. Seek out employers who have mainstreamed flexibility well and learn from what they’ve done that’s worked to make flexible working a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Noel McNamara - Interim CEO, HSBC Australia


“It’s clear from this research that working families can face challenges balancing responsibilities at home and work with their own physical and mental wellbeing. Employers can assist by providing appropriate resources and support. For example, we encourage all employees to take advantage of our flexible working and paid parental leave policies.”

- Noel McNamara, Interim CEO, HSBC Australia

HSBC are one of a number of financial institutions leading the way in corporate Australia when it comes to flexible working. Here’s one employee’s firsthand take on utilising their great policies - Brett Jager - a Senior Global Relationship Manager, Commercial Banking at HSBC Australia.

How Brett uses flexible work practices to optimise his career and home life 

Working flexibly allows Brett to be at his best at home, in the office and even on the footy field.

“I work flexibly in three different ways. On days when I don’t have meetings with colleagues or clients, I’ll try and work from home. This allows me to spend more time with my two kids in the morning, and in the afternoon when I’m able to pick them up and talk about their days.”

Another way Brett practices flexibility is by working compressed hours once a week to coach his son’s Under 10s soccer team.

“I spoke to my line manager about the practical aspects of the commitment but logging on slightly earlier than usual and catching up on emails from home in the evening works well and allows me to be present for my kids,” said Brett.

To ensure he can create balance between his home and work commitments, when necessary Brett will also leave the office later than usual to manage relationships with colleagues in other markets, including Hong Kong and the UK.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that flexibility is accepted in the workplace without prejudice, and consequently, we need to be responsible for investing our time in work and at home wisely.”

Brett works compressed hours once a week to coach his son’s Under 10s soccer team.

The final way Brett introduces flexibility to his working commitments and maintains his wellbeing is by exercising in the mornings before work or during his lunch breaks.

“I find that I perform at my best when I’m feeling my best and exercise is a big part of that,” said Brett. “Some mornings I’ll come into the office slightly later than usual after going for a swim or run and make up for lost time by taking a short lunch break, or logging on from home later.”

“Ultimately, working flexibly allows me to experience a more wholesome life and manage my interests outside of the workplace. I’m able to support my own wellbeing and spend valuable time with my family.”

To read the National Working Families Survey executive summary tap here.

The full report will be released on the 2nd of November 2019 at a business leaders event hosted by HSBC in Sydney. It will also be issued on the Parents At Work website.