Beware the building fear and resentment between parents and non-parents

Some current research is getting plenty of column inches because it suggests there’s growing resentment of working parents from non-parents in the workplace.

Opportunity Now has been conducting the research among 25,000 people aged between 28 and 40 and it’s due to be published in April. Meanwhile, Helena Morrissey, Chairman of Opportunity Now (and Chief Executive of Newton Investment Managers) has been speaking on the initial findings. In a nutshell they suggest that, a) women with children fear that having children could adversely impact their career and, b) non-parents believe they’re expected to work longer hours than parents and are therefore resentful, viewing their colleagues as less committed.

More than half the working women surveyed reported at least one incidence of discrimination against them at work in the past three years. More than three quarters of those surveyed admitted to feeling nervous about the impact of having children on their professional success. Ms Morrissey described “…an uneasy tension between women who don’t have children and those who do…” and added that, “These findings suggest that flexible working isn’t working. One group feels resentment, the other feels less valued”.

Cue much hand-wringing and ‘what’s to be done?’ column inches.

Photo: iStock

In my humble opinion, more policy-making won’t work: there already are extensive processes in place to allow parents – of both sexes – to work flexibly. And yet here we are with fear and resentment building up steam, particularly in the private sector.

Also in my humble opinion, the reporting so far misses a significant and equally potentially contentious issue that’s ticking away: elder care. If flexible working, which thus far has bent over backward to help parents, isn’t working now, chances are it will come under more strain as more of us will need to work flexibly to share caring responsibilities for our long-lived parents.

Or will it?

Third, and I promise final, piece of humble opinion: focusing on the hours put in is to focus on the wrong things. Too much of this debate is about inputs not outputs. Whether someone met that client’s unreasonable deadline by staying at their desk until midnight or dictating whilst breast-feeding is their call to make – in order to achieve the output required. All the agonising over how many hours, who’s entitled to them, and whether it’s good or bad for careers, camaraderie and corporations is focusing on inputs. Managers need to clarify, communicate and reward delivery on outputs. With greater clarity and transparency on results, rather than hours worked in the office, I hope we may all be able to achieve fair and flexible working.

For more on Opportunity Now’s Project 28-40 click here.

For one of the more balanced reports, by HR Grapevine, click here.

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