Balance not just an issue for those with babies
While it’s easy to imagine that work life balance issues mostly exist for those with young babies, Emma says the data proves otherwise.
“Parents responded with children of all ages. It shows us that this is not something that’s isolated to the first year of a child’s life. It carries through to children at 16 to 18, and parents are struggling at all age groups with all sorts of different challenges trying to make this work…what caregiving is required of you changes as your child grows, but it doesn’t get less important,” she says.
A gender-skewed burden
Returning to work after a period of parental leave is often a challenging and difficult time, particularly if jobs and employment conditions have changed without consultation during leave.
The survey showed that on returning from parental leave, mothers’ jobs were much more likely to change than fathers’ jobs. Twenty-eight per cent of mothers stayed with their employer but reported changes to their job, while only six per cent of fathers experienced any job change. On top of this, one in three mothers missed out on an opportunity for promotion due to their use of paid parental leave, as did 11 per cent of fathers.
The result? Not only are women needing to adapt at work, whether they are happy with the changes (or lack thereof) to their role or not, but they are shouldering the main burden of caring work at home, regardless of how much they work in paid employment.
“Generally it’s up to the woman to make up the adjustments needed to make the ongoing primary caring role work…We need to ask ourselves what we are doing to support women and men and how does workplace policy around families help or hinder that process? I don’t think we’ve asked ourselves that as a nation,” Emma says.
Better support for transitioning to parenting
Emma believes that the time we transition to becoming a parent is a period of vulnerability.
“There are physical, mental and financial changes that all need to be considered, and people need time to work all that out,” she says.
“Even now, getting access to decent paid parental leave and flexible work is not a given. There is still a lot more support required from managers and businesses that is needed,” says Emma.
Her own experience comes from decades of coaching new parents through their first twelve months of parenting. She believes broader access to these types of programs would not only help parents’ stress levels but assist Australia in having a higher return to work rate.
“It’s very difficult to adapt to the changes that come with becoming a parent without having someone to talk to or to help you work through the implications of it, and to navigate the critical conversations you need to have. We cannot expect families to completely get on with that themselves without support,” Emma says.