Working Dads during lockdown
The benefits of a flexible work arrangement
The last months you've probably read about the impact COVID-19 has had on equality in heterosexual relationships, how it is moving us in the wrong direction to reach equality and how domestic violence is increasing in our households.
While the economic impact of COVID-19 will affect all workers, it may have a particular impact on women. We have dug a bit deeper to find a sunshine story where COVID-19 helped couples sharing responsibilities equally in their family life.
While there are a lot of statistics showing the negative effect of COVID-19 we have to remember there are stories worth sharing that have shown the opposite and brought a better understanding of sharing the load in families. We know many families are just trying to make ends meet and we also acknowledge them for their effort and work they put in raising a family.
Let’s meet Daimler, a first-time dad. A few months before New Zealand went into lockdown he and his wife Giverny welcomed a daughter, little Nina. Daimler had just started a new job but took the first few weeks off work after Nina's birth to care for the family while they were adjusting to it all. He confessed that going back to work was hard. Then came lockdown and all of a sudden they were able to care for their daughter together.
In a relationship where both partners are working and looking after family studies have shown that women (on average) are logging 10.1 hours per day on housework and caregiving while men spend (on average) 7.3 hours per day on those tasks.
When you were working from home during the lockdown, what were some of the biggest changes for you and your wife while caring for your child?
In terms of changes itself, I had to lock myself in my ‘office’ and focus on my work – and not try to help out my wife when I was in ‘work mode’. Then help her out when I could by taking small breaks during the day. It’s much harder than I thought because you naturally try to help out when you hear the baby crying, but you also have to ensure your work and responsibilities are met. Working from home gave me flexibility though to do both but needed more discipline.
How did you and your wife share the responsibilities for looking after your baby and the household during the lockdown?
I spent my lunchtime looking after our baby so my wife could spend an hour doing some training. It was great because it was a welcome break and gave me more time with my child that I would not have had working in the office.
What have you learned from working remotely and caring for your family during this lockdown period?
It’s certainly possible to do both, but you need to set some guidelines when you focus on work and when you focus on your family. It can be easy to swing more towards work and family, but by setting guidelines, you can do both. It is more about creating work-life integration rather than work-life balance.
What do you think workplaces can do better to support families so the responsibilities can be shared more equally?
Workplaces can allow people to work 1 or 2 days a week from home. This will allow fathers (in particular) the opportunity to help out at home whilst fulfilling work responsibilities.
By cutting out the commute, it means that I can spend some time with my child before her 6pm feed and bedtime - something that I normally wouldn’t get to do. But it is so valuable in the long run.
What could the government do to support responsibilities to be shared more equally?
By extending paid parental leave to be longer would mean that parents can ‘split’ the leave period better, leading to more fathers being more present towards the second half of the parental leave. I have seen this model work very well in other countries such as Sweden.
And what would you say to your male friends who are considering taking time off or some parental leave to look after their child?
I envy them! I met someone who is doing this and it would honestly be a dream scenario for me. I was able to take 2 weeks when my child was born and it was rewarding. If I were able to do this when she was older I would be grateful to spend time when she is developing into a toddler.
The impacts of COVID-19 has been widespread and profound, affecting the economy, families and our working lives. One of the biggest learnings we can all take from it is that being able to offer flexible working arrangements and working from home when possible, helps free up time for both parents. Easing the guilt of not doing enough and at the same time being able to get their paid work done - it's a recipe for happier parents. happier kids, and happier workplaces.