I like the fact there is now a recognised Flexible Working Day, for where would my life now be without flexible work?
It’s near unfathomable to me working any other way now.
And I want more men to come and join me and reap the benefits as well, as too many are stuck working to a schedule that, following COVID-19, we have seen an opportunity to overhaul.
When I started my first professional job as a graduate in my early twenties, I thought there was only one way to work: five days a week. I had this reductive attitude for over ten years in my career. I didn’t realise how much my upbringing, my school, and my father shaped my attitudes to work. I came from a stable, supportive and loving family, and my dad worked extremely long hours, and traveled overseas and interstate frequently. He was a true captain of industry. I went to a fancy, all-male, overwhelmingly-white private school on Sydney’s lower north shore. It wasn’t until I was about to have my first child, a baby girl, that I started to release how ingrained the male breadwinner model of manhood was in my psyche. I was never a live-to-work kind of guy, but even still, my own expectations when I became a dad was I’d be working full time.
My first conversations with my wife, Julia, about how to share caring responsibilities started from the assumption that she’d do less paid work than me, even though we earned about the same amount, were at the same career stage and respected each other’s ambitions equally. We both assumed she would do more caring than me. We had to deliberately pull ourselves up and challenge our thinking.
Going to a flexible, four-day week schedule was honestly one of the best turning points in my life. This, more than anything, helped us split our caring duties evenly, and ensured we could share the mental load of managing a home with two toddlers running on as much combined energy as the sun. It hasn’t hurt our careers and we’ve kept the family budget from spinning out of control as well. Yes, some weeks are more stressful than others, and some weeks you feel guilty about how you manage the juggle, but overwhelmingly it is a powerfully positive approach.
I’d love to see more men, especially senior leaders within companies, embrace Jacinda Ardern’s recent support for a four day week. The number of fathers working part-time before COVID-19 was tiny. About 4 to 5% of fathers worked part-time to care for children, compared with about 40% of mothers. Too many men feel trapped in a male breadwinner culture that tells them the best way to be a dad is to work long hours. They deserve to have a choice as to how to be a dad. Employers also need to do more. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, in late 2018, only about one in four organisations had flexible working policies, and less than two in 100 employers set targets for men’s engagement in flexible work. Surely we can make a silver lining from COVID-19 and dramatically increase both these rates?
Working flexibly has made my life more rewarding. I have had one day during the week to be with my two children and take care of them during this time, and they are the most special moments in my life. We goof around and play games in the warm sun, grab coffees and treats from our local cafes, explore little bush tracks near our house, and watch the winter waves crash on the creamy sands of the northern beaches while we draw pictures with sticks and build castles. To have this time to refocus my mind on what is important in life, to distance myself (even just a little) from work, and to reaffirm my close relationship with my children, is truly priceless. I’m a better person for it and it helps with my levels of anxiety and stress generally.
It’s also made me way more efficient and ruthless with my time. I’m better at hitting the ground running when I start paid work for the day, prioritizing what is important and getting it done with less faffing around. Sure, there are days I hit the doldrums like anyone, and days when I kick myself for not being more productive, but ultimately there is a light year of difference between me working as a young graduate and me working in 2020. I feel I can almost create time from nothing these days. You see guys, it will help your career, not hinder it.
It was almost one hundred years ago that we got our current, rigid work week, courtesy of Henry Ford and his research into how far to push factor workers in making his T-models. We haven’t driven T-model fords for a long time, so why persist with a work schedule that doesn’t match the way we live? COVID-19 has opened up a path to change to a better, more family-friendly way of working. We all deserve more time back in our crazy, busy lives.
Rob Sturrock is a working father of two, advocate and author of Man Raises Boy: A revolutionary approach for fathers who want to raise kind, confident and happy sons out now with Allen & Unwin.