This programme of research was set against changes in families' involvement in the labour force, and particularly the large rise in working mothers. The dominant pattern for UK families at the beginning of the twenty-first century is to have 1. Drawing on different data sources, studies from the programme found:. Having two earners in the family reduces the risk of families facing financial hardship, more especially:.
For some, the dual or 1. Many mothers find there are additional benefits from working Reynolds et al. The signs of stress in family life from having two earners are most evident in the high proportion of employed mothers approximately half who say they would prefer to stop work altogether and stay home looking after their children if they could afford to do so Bell and La Valle, In the early phases of this programme, the DTI was estimating the workplace costs from changing family circumstances. Stress and ill health were estimated to have lost between 4.
The business case Surveys analysed in this programme suggest that employers, especially in larger workplaces, have been adapting to changes in family life and employee responsibilities by offering an array of work-life policies Dex and Smith, Their reasons for change are varied but recognising the costs of ignoring problems has been one.
Competition for talent has been another important element. Analyses of the Workplace Employee Relations Survey a nationally representative survey of British workplaces found that flexible working arrangements could be associated with improved business performance Dex and Smith, This business case offers evidence to back the Government's campaign for greater workplace flexibility.
In-depth case studies of a range of smaller organisations found that, contrary to survey findings, smaller businesses could be highly innovative in their response to employee requests for flexible working, possibly to a greater extent than is possible in larger organisations Dex and Scheibl, There were encouraging signs that career prospects were not penalised if employees made use of flexible working arrangements Crompton et al.
Problem areas A study of a range of business settings Yeandle et al. Customised solutions work best for employees. This also provides opportunities for greater employee partnership, initiative and autonomy. This brings far greater benefits and also addresses ineffective and low productivity working practices.
This will also spread costs more evenly between employers. This may mean avoiding over-long lists of policies and confusing names. This sort of customised approach is needed especially for carers of older adults. New approaches Smaller businesses often start out granting flexibility to individual employees who request it Dex and Scheibl, Some employers had moved from this informal and discretionary response to a more explicitly reciprocal approach: ' You help the business and the business will help you '.
From here, some had moved to examine and then change the organisation of their work overall to facilitate greater flexibility for employees without disrupting business and even bringing some business benefits. Larger organisations can retain the customised approach of smaller businesses by having fewer policies but an over-arching and explicit statement that employees can ask for the arrangements they want.
This can also help avoid some of the problems of lack of awareness of 'family-friendly' policies. Encouraging employees to offer suggestions about how to improve working arrangements and productivity can also help to build employer-employee partnerships and trust and produce workable solutions to individuals' specific needs. Trust was found to underlie good working relationships across different types and sizes of organisations ranging from family businesses, other small businesses to large private or public sector organisations Dex and Scheibl, ; Basu and Altinay, forthcoming; Yeandle et al.
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Suggestions for helping to extend best-practice flexible working in workplaces are listed in Box 1. Trade unions are the obvious institutions to get involved in this sort of partnership building towards best practice. Flexibility is very popular among employees and much appreciated in workplaces which offer it. However, working at weekends, especially Sundays, was the most unpopular working arrangement among parents. Given the popularity of flexible working, the lack of serious disadvantages, and even a good business case for some arrangements, the argument for having more such policies is strong.
The Government's introduction, in , of parents' right to ask for flexible working is a move in the right direction. It is also in tune with the way small businesses introduce and operate flexible working. However, by its restriction to parents, the new regulation runs the risk of generating resentment within workplaces where, according to these research projects, feelings of inequity and resentment currently are rare.
This would be a pity. Work problems and stresses can sometimes carry over into day-to-day family life, although the extent to which this occurs varies according to how far parents separate these two aspects of their lives Reynolds et al. Other bad effects were considerably more pronounced for couples and lone parents who worked at atypical times of day La Valle et al. When facing competing demands, mothers put children and work first with time for self and their partner ranked second Reynolds et al.
Work and Family
Some interesting findings emerged about how having a family affects fathers La Valle et al. These support other recent research findings about fathers. It is often assumed that fathers give priority to work over family and mothers the reverse. But fathers and mothers were similar in many ways. Although child care provision continues to expand under the National Child Care Strategy and the Sure Start programme, some problem areas remain and the thrust of government policy goes against the thinking of some groups of parents.
Problem areas Child care provision was seen to be a problem for working parents of school aged children:. In addition, co-ordinating different child care provision was problematic for employed parents, especially in families with more than one young child Skinner, Getting children from care in one place to care in another, either early in the morning, at midday or the end of school, led to considerable pressure on two-parent families and made some one-parent families feel it was so impossible that employment was not an option.
Co-ordinating child care, the geographical spread of provision and associated transport provision need more detailed consideration in the National Strategy if lone parents and even some couples are to be able to take up employment or have more than one child. While it may be possible, even efficient, for schools to play a bigger role in organising care, moving into being providers or organisers of child care would involve a departure from their current roles as educators and may be resisted.
Existing child care providers face significant problems in trying to extend their services outside of the normal working day, even where they are willing to do so.
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There are staffing as well as other barriers. Childminders have done most to offer flexible services by extending their hours a little either side of the standard working day.
But all child care providers thought further extension would encroach on their own family time and was therefore unacceptable. Similarly, other childcare providers thought that there would be problems finding staff to work at atypical times Statham and Mooney, Preference for informal child care The Government's National Child Care Strategy is concerned with providing affordable, accessible, and high quality formal child care provision from childminders and various types of day care.
Parents in these research projects wanted their children to be happy while they were out of the home, a preference that coincides with valuing good quality child care. But many parents also expressed strong preferences about the sort of child care they were happy with. Backett-Milburn et al. Also, rather than being prepared to compromise on what was available, some parents' views were so strong that they were prepared to put themselves to enormous time and trouble to take their children to what they thought of as suitable carers Skinner, ; Mooney et al.
Some parents had strong preferences for care from relatives La Valle et al. Child care subsidies do not cover these types of care. What parents valued about child care was very evident in the choices they made. The Government's focus on subsidising formal child care may well be unlikely to persuade the parents it seeks to influence, many of whom prefer informal care, to take up employment. In this sense, National Child Care Strategy provision goes against the child care preferences of at least some parents. Fathers in families from lower socio-economic groups were doing more child care than those from families with higher socio-economic status La Valle et al.
The paradox here is that these fathers often express more traditional views about families and the gendered division of labour. But in practice, they are more prepared to break the traditional division of labour by looking after their own children while the mother works. Some of the higher earning fathers expressed more egalitarian views but worked such long hours that this precluded them living up to their expressed values in terms of the time they could spend with their families.
Informal child care arrangements from relatives, friends and neighbours had other advantages. These relationships are the substance or glue of communities.
Andrew E. Scharlach, PhD
Some commentators argue that social life has become more fragmented and isolated. Parents' time to engage in maintaining relationships with the wider family, friends and spouses, as well as engaging in voluntary activities, has undoubtedly been squeezed by engaging in paid work. However, one network that has become more central and vital, especially to employed mothers, is the child care network.
Rational versus gender role explanations for work-family conflict. Profiles in caregiving: The unexpected career. San Diego: Academic Press. MR, Russell. ML a. Antecedents and outcomes of work-family conflict: Testing a model of the work-family interface. Journal of Applied Psychology. Frone, MR, Russell. Prevalence of work-family conflict: Are work and family boundaries asymmetrically permeable? Perrewe , Daniel C. Fredriksen is at University of Washington. Bonilla-Silva, E. Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America 4 th ed.
Book by Martin Guevara Urbina, Ph. Review by Anna Hegedus. ISBN Freire, P.
Related Families and Work: New Directions in the Twenty-First Century
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