Date posted: 7/04/2017 3 min read

Tackling the working parent's dilemma

The daily juggling act of caring for your kids while working long hours may be impacting your family security.

In brief

  • Both men and women are working longer hours and this can take its toll on families.
  • A 39-hour working week may be the key to a healthy mind and a healthy family life.
  • Getting work/life balance right is not always easy, particularly given the gender pay gap.

Brought to you by Aon.  

Everybody’s workplace and working life is undergoing profound change. Technology is allowing greater flexibility – but it also extending the working day beyond the traditional 9am to 5pm confines. For working women in particular, this flexibility has laid the foundations for fresh career paths where work and home life can be more successfully intertwined.  

Women make up just over 46% of Australia’s workforce. For these women, and also for many men, the theme for 2017’s International Women’s Day in March – “be bold for change” – resonated loud and clear.   

A bold change urgently needed is for the gender pay gap to narrow. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has identified a 17.3% gender pay gap between men and women in Australia. The clear consequence is that women must work longer hours to match men’s salary or superannuation balances, which is especially important as on average women live longer than men.  

A bold change urgently needed is for the gender pay gap to narrow.

But working longer hours has a cost. The Journal of Social Science and Medicine recently published a study noting that there was a working threshold of 39 hours a week beyond which mental health declines.  

Exacerbating the problem

For working parents the situation is particularly acute as the study noted that unpaid caring roles outside of work exacerbate the problem. This needs to be considered in concert with the fact that the participation rate of working parents is rising – particularly working mothers.  

Australian census data reveals that 65% of mothers with children aged under 18 are in the workforce. Both parents work full time in more than one in five families, which rises to around a third when the children are aged 12-17.  

Successfully melding family and work lives requires a fair degree of workplace flexibility – but as Jane Counsel, principal diversity consultant at Executive Central Group, notes, this isn’t always readily available.  

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” she says, particularly to support men who also want access to flexible working arrangements in order to participate more fully in family life. Counsel said that at present twice as many men as women were likely to have requests to work flexibility turned down. But there is no warning about when a child may fall ill or be injured. It’s not something that can be scheduled.  

Logistical nightmares for working couples

While it’s a particularly acute challenge for single parents, working couples also experience what Lucy Hickman candidly describes as “logistical nightmares”.  A mother of three young daughters aged six, four and one, Hickman is a Wellington-based chartered accountant and Asia Pacific finance manager for e-learning business Kineo. She works 24 hours a week; three days in the office and one day from home. Her husband works full time.  

When one of their daughters is ill their care is co-ordinated – and generally provided – by Hickman herself. It’s a major challenge and also throws into sharp relief any gap between what an employer says about its family friendly policies and the reality. Sally Richardson is a self-employed rehabilitation consultant and mother to three school-aged children aged 11, nine and seven. Her husband is a high school teacher and they share the care of their children, including when they are sick.  

When a child is sick, Richardson and her husband juggle care duties and for the past two years he has exhausted his carer’s leave looking after their children. Since Richardson is self-employed, she has no employer provided carer’s leave to fall back on.  

“I can work from home with a sick child – but it’s really challenging when I have appointments,” Richardson says.  

Insurance options

Working Parents Insurance is a new solution that has been designed as a safety net to protect families when a child falls sick or is injured. It’s available for mothers and fathers, including step-parents or adoptive parents.  

Unaffected by any carer’s leave provided by an employer, Working Parents Insurance provides a daily lump sum benefit of up to A$150 over a period of up to ten days per year. Paid when a parent can’t work because a child is sick or injured, it provides peace of mind and an important financial support at a time when bills can quickly rise to pay for doctor’s visits, carers or medicines.  

To learn more about Working Parents Insurance and how it can help your family call 1800 805 191, visit the Aon website or email au.workingparents@aon.com.