Time vs. Money: the modern family dilemma

Time and money are the two major currencies in modern life. Balancing our need to earn money to support our lives with our need for time to live our lives is our holy grail.

Once you have children, that can become even harder. Expenses go up (more people to house, clothe and feed) but we also want more time to be able to enjoy our families and nurture our children’s development.

So it’s not really surprising that according to the Modern Families Index 2017 only one in five UK parents say they have got the balance right between time and money for their families to thrive.

Supporting working parents (both in and outside the workplace), I witness daily the heavy demands work makes and how hard parents strive to carve out and protect family time. But attending the Westminster launch of new research by Working Families last week, even I was surprised by the stats on how far work now encroaches.

Heavy workloads mean that nearly three-quarters of parents say they take work home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% of them saying this happens ‘often or all of the time’. Only a third of parents leave work on time every day. 3 in 10 fathers regularly work over 48 hours a week. And that is not to mention the long commutes for parents who are priced out of living in the place they work.

One in five parents working full time is putting in five extra weeks a year – the equivalent of their annual holiday allowance – in unpaid work, just to keep up with the demands of the job. [Modern Families Index 2017]

That extra work is not cost-free and families are paying the price. Parents report being stressed, being unable to spend time with their children or to help with their homework, and arguing with their partners and with their children – that is a heavy toll to support employers’ efficiency drives or bottom lines.

It simply isn’t sustainable.

There is some evidence that parents aren’t prepared to keep it up. Nearly half of fathers report that they would like to downshift to a less stressful job and 38% of fathers would be prepared to take a pay cut to achieve that. Younger fathers are even more likely to make that choice.

But, more importantly, ignoring work-life balance is a short-sighted strategy for employers. Parents report increasing levels of resentment towards employers and are more likely to leave jobs that do not provide good work-life balance opportunities. We know that employers who attend to the parenting needs of their working parents benefit from employees who are more committed, more motivated, less stressed, more productive, and less likely to make errors or take time off.

Balancing the time vs. money problem will always be difficult. Flexible working arrangements, less traditional gender divisions of labour, and accessible and affordable childcare all contribute to giving families the greatest number of choices for solving that equation. But allowing a stressed-out working to culture to continue to grow – in which employees are expected routinely to work beyond their allotted hours – is making families pay a price that does business no favours and may be storing up problems for the future.

For information on how employers can support the parenting needs of working parents, hop over to The Positive Parenting Project. Or sign up to our monthly newsletters for positive parenting tips for working parents.

©Anita Cleare 2017

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