Juggling work and family: what it costs Australian business

| February 26, 2016

Over the past three decades, there has been a fundamental shift in the structure of our workforce in Australia. 

The family where both parents work (and single parents work) is now standard, and it has become tougher and tougher to maintain a career and raise a family.

In 1991, 55% of women returned to work after their first child, by 2011 this had increased to 65% (ABS census) and this trend is continuing unabated.

At the same time, commute times to and from work have increased, and the explosion of mobile technology has extended our working day.

Juggle Street — a neighbourhood network connecting busy families with local babysitters, nannies and after school carers — was created to help parents with their work and family balancing act, and we are reminded every day of the challenges faced by juggling parents.

Until now, nobody had measured the impact of all this juggling on the Australian workplace. In January this year, we commissioned Pureprofile to investigate the cost of lost productivity. The market research comprised 1000 people across the nation, equally split between men and women with at least one child 12 years or younger, where both parents (and single parents) worked full or part-time. Data analysis was provided by Bliss Point Research.

The landmark study of working mums and dads in Australia revealed that lost productivity costs a whopping $23.92 billion per annum.

·         Thinking and stressing about juggling family issues while at work: $12.64 billion

·         Planning and dealing with family issues at work: $5.68 billion

·         Arriving later and/or leaving early from work due to family issues: $2.44 billion

·         Carer and ‘sickie’ days due to family issues: $3.15 billion

The study found that 53 per cent of young parents felt they had been overlooked for a work promotion or unable to take on new responsibilities due to child-related commitments. This cohort of 18 to 34-year old parents fared worse when compared with their older counterparts (aged 35 and above) at 35 per cent.

A majority of parents working more than 50 hours per week felt their current employer was not “family friendly or flexible”. They also spent more time thinking or stressing about and dealing with child-related responsibilities compared with those who worked fewer hours in the week.

Nearly 50 per cent of respondents said they would opt for slightly lower pay in a new job if it were more family friendly or flexible.

Sixty-three per cent of participants said they had missed out on at least $10,000 in lost earnings over the past year due to managing their children’s needs, and 11 per cent said they missed out on $50,000 or more.

The research found that while women generally worked less than men, they spent more time thinking or stressing about and dealing with their children’s needs at work. But men more than women found this had a greater impact on their productivity at work.

Eighteen per cent of women spent more than 6 hours per week thinking or stressing about child-related responsibilities while they were at work, compared with 10 per cent of men.

Carers leave and sickies

The survey found more than 70 per cent of parents took up to 10 days ‘carer’s leave’ in the past 12 months, in fake sickies or official carer’s leave, to deal with a child-related issues.

I am both a juggling parent and employer, and I think more and more employers are turning a blind-eye to juggling parent sickies. Firstly, managers appreciate how difficult the juggling act has become (and they are likely to be juggling themselves), and secondly, companies have had to accept that a huge percentage of their workforce is made up of juggling parents. There are obvious problems with turning-a-blind-eye; the system is open to abuse, and employees without children can feel discriminated against. However, juggling parents are always going to need time off — it’s just a reality.

I think juggling parent sickies have become an unofficial currency. I believe there should be more open discussion and transparency in the workplace. If employers and employees were more collaborative, I’m confident flexible solutions would be achieved to meet the needs of both parties.

Tips for juggling parents: how to stay on top of things

·         You need a team, not one person – don’t try and find one perfect carer, it takes a village to raise a child. The more children you have, and the older they get, the more complex your requirements become. Create a local team – regular child care, nanny/babysitter, family, ad hoc last-minute helpers. Local (just around the corner!) is the key.

·         Back-up, back-up and more back-up — carers, children, and parents get sick. Accept that something will always go wrong! Plan ahead and have a back-up strategy in place.

·         Me time and date nights — ensure you have some non-negotiable ‘me’ time each week, such as ‘my Pilates class’, ‘my walk in the park’ etc. And use your network to maintain your personal relationships, not just your work ones. Even if this means paying for babysitters, maintain me time and date nights!

Tips for building and maintaining your network of carers

·         Be clear about your expectations — the DOs and DONTs. Write a list of requirements and rules, especially regarding safety and treatment of your children

·         If you want help with home duties, be up-front about it and communicate it very clearly

·         Acknowledge and reward contributions that go above-and-beyond

·         Look for carers who will be good role models for your children, and teach your children to be respectful and helpful

Juggle Street solves multiple ‘Parent Pain Points’ in four broad categories, starting with first time mums at home with the newborn. Next it’s the daycare years when the children are 2 to 5, followed by primary school, and then high school. We launched Juggle Street in November 2014. Since then our user base has grown to more than 6000, (approximately 60 per cent helpers and 40 per cent families).

Like many families where both parents work, my wife and I have become expert jugglers. Juggle Street has really helped us meet our (equally busy) neighbours and access a whole new network of helpers. Soon after we launched Juggle Street we met a helper living on our street. We had been living near each other for more than 10 years and had never met!