A man looking after a small child has traditionally been a stock comic image – think Mr Mom, Daddy Day Care or Kindergarten Cop. However, attitudes are changing fast. New dads are increasingly seeking to work flexibly in order to care for their children. According to a recent Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) report, men in general ranked flexibility as one of the top five requirements in a job. Men under 35 with young children ranked flexibility as number three.

Sadly, however, many men are afraid to ask for flexible arrangements for fear of a negative perception that they are not serious about their career. The DCA study found that 79 percent of young fathers would prefer to choose their start and finish times but only 41 percent actually did so in reality.

The DCA report urges employers to address men’s reluctance to request flexible work arrangements by designing roles with flexibility as standard practice and promoting “success stories”.

Westpac head of diversity and flexibility Jane Counsel identified cultural resistance as a problem. While the bank had introduced flexibility programs, she acknowledged that there were still pockets of bias.

Meanwhile, a UK survey has found that over half of men with children sixteen and under (56 percent) look for roles that encompass flexible working arrangements. The study also found that many men did not understand their legal entitlements to paternity leave and flexible working arrangements.

There can be benefits in flexible working arrangements if handled correctly. In the UK, BT implemented flexible working policies, including home working, which saved it 500 million pounds per annum in property costs and reduced staff turnover to 3 percent (compared to the industry average of 18 percent).

From 1 January 2013, Australian men are entitled to Dad and Partner Pay; two weeks at the National Minimum Wage. An employee, or employee couple, can also legally request twelve months unpaid parental leave at the birth or adoption of a child. Employees may also, under certain circumstances, request flexible working arrangements when they have responsibility for the care of a child, a request that employers can refuse on reasonable business grounds. For further information, please refer to the National Employment Standard on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website.

There are also a range of voluntary options available to employers and employees to facilitate a more flexible workplace. Family-friendly working encompasses part-time working, compressed hours (four long days as opposed to five standard days), working from home, job sharing, annualised hours (longer weeks and shorter weeks over the year), shift-swapping, term-time working and variable start and finish times.

Different options will work for each employer and employee. iHR recommends “getting to know” your workforce as part of the process of employee engagement. iHR can help you “take the temperature” of your workplace through employee engagement surveys that cover the gamut of workplace satisfaction and engagement, career development and training and capability needs.

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