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Jul 9, 2014

Bright Horizons recently conducted a national study, The Modern Family Index, that explores what it means to be a working parent today.

The study revealed some insights — including that working parents still perceive that their responsibilities with their family may cause them to experience significant challenges at work.

Bright Horizon’s research highlights that much has changed towards how parents approach family obligations and the level of conflict they experience. But, how positive are those changes when, overall, many employees still feel like they can’t be honest with their supervisors about family responsibilities?

An issue for working Dads as well as Moms

Perhaps the most obvious example of change toward family obligations in 2014 is that work-family balance is not only an issue for mothers.

Fathers report being nearly just as stressed and insecure about work and family conflicts as mothers (46 percent of dads say that one of their daily stressors is child care needs during the workday, vs. 52 percent of moms) and are likely to be just as nervous as women to tell their bosses about some of their big family commitments (63 percent of men vs. 68 percent of women).

Additionally, for fathers, work-life integration ranks just as highly as other top stressors like saving for retirement and managing personal health. Additionally, telling their bosses that they need to take time off for a family matter is just as stressful (39 percent) as telling a boss they’ve made a mistake on a work project (36 percent).modern-family-index_v10-02

When it comes to flexible scheduling, one in three fathers (34 percent) report asking their employers for more flexibility or modification of their work schedule to meet obligations to their children (compared to 42 percent of moms).

While the increased balance of family obligations between men and women represents a positive trend, it’s still concerning that working parents so highly perceive that family obligations can negatively impact their career – or actually cause them to be demoted and fired.

Fear of being fired for family obligations

Bright Horizons reports that 60 percent of working parents have at least one work-related concern caused by family responsibilities, and 48 percent admit one of their concerns due to their family responsibilities is that they could get fired!

If there’s any one statistic to highlight in this report, I think it’s probably this one: nearly 50 percent of working parents are concerned about getting fired for having family obligations! Additionally worrisome data follow this statistic, including:

  • 39 percent of parents fear being denied a raise because of family responsibilities;
  • 37 percent fear they will never get promoted again; and,
  • 26 percent worry about a demotion because of family responsibilities.

And to make sure family obligations don’t impact work time? Parents report spending 51 percent of paid time off dealing with family responsibilities instead of taking a trip or relaxing at home.

Not as much progress in work-life balance

Bright Horizon’s research unfortunately pulls the rug out from under the belief that discussions of work-life integration and family obligations are commonplace today. Certainly they are more common than they were in the past, but this study indicates that we might not be taking the leaps and bounds that all the headlines around work-life integration suggest.

Employees today remain just as nervous bringing up key family related issues (51 percent) as important work-related problems (52 percent) with employers, and 23 percent of working parents (almost a quarter) admit to lying or bending the truth to their boss about family responsibilities that get in the way of work:

  • 31 percent of working parents have faked being sick to meet family obligations;
  • 39 percent admit that one of the things they would be nervous to tell their boss is that they need to miss a work event for a family commitment
  • 56 percent (more than half!) of working parents report that one of the topics they would hesitate to ask their boss about is reducing hours, working remotely or placing boundaries on responding to calls or emails.

Encouraging the use of family friendly policies

This would be a good time to consider what work-life integration programs your organization offers – as well as the attitude senior management has towards employees with families.

Does senior management walk the talk or are family friendly policies just lip service? Make sure working parents are aware of programs that are in place to help them balance their work and family responsibilities, and, perhaps more importantly, make sure it is emphasized that it is OK, and expected, that working parents utilize those programs.

Creating family friendly policies in one thing. Encouraging their use and ensuring that parents’ careers are not jeopardized for using them is an entirely other thing.

Where does your organization net out?

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at