Picture this - it’s Monday morning, the juggle has begun. There’s a need to be in office for a team meeting kicking off at 8.30am, your partner is in the same boat. It’s a 45-minute journey to work, there are two kids to get to school plus pre-school and drop off and pick up to plan for – and today is open classrooms so you really should stay until 9am to be a ‘present’ parent. You’ve been up since 5am pulling yourself together for another day of frankly ‘managing logistics’, so you can ‘be’ everywhere you need to be today – and you know that if just-one-thing doesn’t go as planned today, it’s going to be a major problem and the house of cards with tumble.

Sound familiar?

Recent findings of a work family balance impact report may come as no surprise to a busy household where chaos rules as two working parents race around to complete the juggle of ‘just another normal working day’.

In a new study of more than 35,000 employees conducted by McKinsey and Company, it was found that 89 percent of women and 70 percent of men are part of a dual-career couple (DCC) - a couple in which both partners have jobs. And the results show that no matter the ethnicity or income level, the struggle for ‘work-life balance’ is a major issue for these couples.

‘Many employees in DCCs have no choice but to work. But for some couples, both partners work by choice, and career fulfillment is a top priority for them. These employees often struggle to find such fulfillment because the demands of balancing home and each partner’s work can be overwhelming and sometimes even create conflicting priorities.” – McKinsey & Company

Career ‘happiness’ over time

In the study, employees in DCCs are less likely to report being ‘happy’ with their jobs than are their peers in single-career couples.

Interestingly, the study showed that the ‘happiness’ of DCC employees increased as they advanced in their career through to senior levels, whereas single-career employees’ happiness remained mostly the same despite career advancement.

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work

McKinsey believes that this may have something to do with children – if these DCC couples are also parents, then perhaps those earlier years with dependant children cause stress, especially when it comes to work-life balance, compared to the later years when children are fully grown.

It makes sense that parents of young children whom both work, struggling with childcare costs and the general ‘not enough time in a day’ feeling that kids bring, may cite lower levels of happiness at work than later in their lives, when their children are more independent or have left home. After all, it makes it a lot easier to concentrate on your work day when you’re not getting calls from the school about sick children.

Role of Employers

There’s no doubt that employers have an important role to play when it comes to helping their employees strike a balance between their work and home life.

Organisations can take the lead by developing and prioritising family-friendly workplace policies which clearly support employees to manage their career and family needs, without feeling like the two are at odds with each other.

And the business case is clear -  it makes good sense to invest in creating a family friendly workplace.  Organisations that support their people to strike a balance promotes loyalty and engagement. An employee who feels supported as a parent within their workplace will not only, as other studies show, be more productive[1], but will more likely stay with that employer in the long term.

The McKinsey report outlines a list of ways that companies are able to support employees to ‘foster success’ when part of a dual-career couple. Providing DCC employees with supportive managers and growth opportunities is key, as DCC employees may struggle with work-life balance factors that single-career employees may not.

“To foster the success of employees in dual career couples companies should make sure that these employees enjoy access to opportunities for professional development and career advancement, support for maintaining work–life balance, and sponsorship opportunities.” – McKinsey & Company

Impact on Gender Equality

The study shows that women in DCCs are more eager than their female peers in SCCs to become top executives.

These roles need to be achievable and be a feasible option, so dual-employment couples are not hesitant to apply or advance to these top positions.

Again, by providing family-friendly policies and a workplace culture that encourages and supports working parents, then employees will overcome those barriers that may prevent them from applying for senior positions, such as the mindset that ‘it’s family or work’.

“A minority of employees in DCCs want to attain this goal [of becoming top executives], and fewer women than men in DCCs aspire to it. The reason may be simple: many workers in DCCs believe that top-executive responsibilities might come at a cost too high for their families.” – McKinsey & Company

This is where an employer’s support of work-life balance becomes crucial.

Organisations should not only instruct managers on the best ways to talk and assist their employees with their personal/professional integration, but also actively promote it themselves by being examples. An employee who sees their manager taking parental leave or leaving work early to attend a school function will feel much more comfortable doing the same.

Anyone that is part of a ‘dual-career couple’ knows what a juggling act it is, particularly when you are parents as well. But organisations have the opportunity, and responsibility, to implement workplace policies and supportive culture that allows these parents to thrive – as employees and as partners and parents.


Written by Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work

To read the full study report, visit here.

Article first published on LinkedIn here.

How family-friendly is your workplace? For more information on how you can support your employees work life balance visit Parents At Work and become an employer of choice for work-life balance.

Excerpts taken from ‘How dual-career couples find fulfilment at work’, September 2010 Report by McKinsey and Company.

[1] EY, Paid Family and Medical Leave Survey, 2016 (unpublished). Note that the vast majority (97% and 93%) reported a positive or no effect on morale and productivity, respectively, suggesting that very few companies experienced any negative effect