Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we’re fortunate to have a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this particular story we sit down with Daniel* who works at a multinational bank to discuss his journey of flexible working as a father. Daniel is a father of two and describes his career journey as ‘an accidental 20 year stint in the city after his career advisor typed “stock broker” instead of “ski-instructor”‘ and that he is ‘living the corporate dream until his Dog Surf School takes off’.
ECC: How has becoming a dad changed you?
Daniel: There are myriad impacts that fatherhood brings. Some subtle, some subtle as a brick in the face. But the overarching theme, I’d argue, is an immediate shift away from ‘me’ or ‘us’ to ‘the family’. What previously worked best for you or your relationship, might not any more. But that recalibration is not a bad thing. There’s newly felt responsibility perhaps, but a better grasp of the bigger picture. There’s a newly fledged cost-centre, but the pay-back is ten-fold. Overall, some of the changes are obvious, some creep up on you, but I’d argue they add up to a better person. Apart from the sleep deprivation of course. Sleep deprivation makes no one a better person.
ECC: There’s a lot of focus on help for working mothers, what would be good to see in support of working fathers?
Externally: Continued government drive towards greater autonomy for couples to make their own decisions for their family. Let parents have the shared toolbox to make decisions that suit them – Be that cumulative parental leave, flexible working hours etc.
Internally: Leadership modelling. Most men take their cues on what’s acceptable at work from the corporate environment, which is more often than not cascaded down from management. So from the first scan, via a dozen Christmas concerts through to graduation, your perception of how your company feels about fatherhood will likely be driven by the rules (and attitudes) of the company leaders.
ECC: How have you adjusted your working patterns since starting your family?
Daniel: A definite shift away from ‘presenteeism’ hours – Bigger things to do now. Much more confident in putting a hard stop to the day.
After-work socialising also curtailed somewhat. Random rehydration replaced with more deliberate team events. Likewise client entertainment. Is the evening going to be productive? Or simply box-ticking?
Bigger picture I’d also think much harder about projects or roles that had evening or weekend hours baked in.
ECC: How much have attitudes changed to encourage parents of all genders to work more flexibly? What could be done to support more flexible working?
Daniel: In the 20yrs I’ve worked in finance, attitudes have shifted enormously. Where you used to cover up even a dentist appointment with a fake client meeting, you can now happily tell colleagues you’re having the afternoon off for Sports’ Day. Internally and externally, there has been a real change. That said it should be noted that the rate of change had been glacial and often against some resistance. It was accelerated by the changing attitudes of Millennials in the last decade and then obviously turbo-charged by COVID-19 in the last year.
The biggest support companies can give to flexible working is mind-set. All else will follow. At the start of the pandemic wfh was generally viewed as a necessary evil by management. ‘Productivity will drop of course, but we’ll stay afloat until we can get back to the office’. When that absolutely didn’t occur, indeed the opposite, flexible working had to be viewed through a different lens. That adapted mind-set is the best overall support flexible working can have.
ECC: Working and having a family makes for a busy life, how do you support your own health and resilience?
Daniel: Simply block some time out for yourself. Don’t waste it – Do what reinvigorates you. And.. Ensure your partner does the same. (It’s not purely altruistic. You know this.)
ECC: Have you any advice for other working dads?
Generic advice? Be confident with the change. A shift in working behaviour is largely expected now, so don’t be afraid to tell colleagues what you’re doing and why (ensure you reciprocate that flexibility when you can of course). It’s also an adaptation that can actually make you better at what you do as it nudges a rethink of your processes and help cut out those peripherals.
Practical advice? 1) In those early days, split up the night shift. Being on ‘call’ for 4 hrs and sleeping for 4 hrs is immeasurably better than 8hrs of not sleeping while pretending you can’t hear the screaming from your side of the bed. It does get better, promise. 2) As they start school, be ruthless booking that summer holiday. Jan 2nd, 9:02am – no later. Your team might love you, but they’ll show you no mercy on holiday booking! 3) Lastly, and it will happen, if you do miss a recital or fail to nab those two weeks in August then the Gingerbread Men from Pret do work remarkably well. For both your children, and your partner, it turns out…
Keep an eye out for the rest of the ‘Real Stories’ series across the other stages of the parental transition!
*name has been changed to protect privacy