This article was first published in the April 2020 UK edition of 
Accounting and Business magazine.

Modern-day family life is going through unprecedented change. At the heart of this are the changing roles that parents play at home, and this needs to be better reflected in the workplace.

Much research has focused on the ‘motherhood penalty’: the argument that working mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, benefits and perceived competence compared with childless women. With today’s fathers getting increasingly involved in family life, we might now be seeing the emergence of the ‘fatherhood penalty’ – where dads have to downshift their careers in order to get the parental balance they crave.

DaddiLife, in association with Deloitte, has surveyed more than 2,000 UK-based dads aged between 24 and 40 to identify the work-life balance issues they face. The results show that a third had changed jobs since becoming a father, with 39% of them pinpointing ‘flexibility to fulfil parental responsibilities’ as a reason.

Only 14% ‘strongly agree’ that they are treated equally to mothers in their organisation with regard to flexible working options, while almost 66% revealed that they experience guilt when requesting flexibility. Overall, 35% of fathers mentioned leaving on time as the number-one workplace tension, followed by taking time off for child-related appointments (31%). Around 36% reported a negative impact on their mental and physical health since become a parent, while 38% believed their work-life situation is affecting their relationship with their partners.

In some sectors, the story is more positive. Overall, 63% of respondents had asked for flexibility, with the sectors most willing to grant requests to work from home being retail (73%) and construction (73%)

Accounting doesn’t add up

Accountancy, by contrast, is among the bottom three sectors in enabling flexible working. Of the 13% of interviewees in accounting roles who asked to work from home one to two days a week, only 15% had their request granted. For the 20% who requested three or more days a week at home, just 17% were successful. The research also revealed that while almost 48% of fathers in accounting requested a change in hours only 56% of those were successful.

In order to tackle the issues identified in the survey, a number of options should be considered, starting with paternity leave provision. Although many UK-based dads are exploring options such as shared parental leave, most are compensated at only statutory levels after a few weeks. Statutory and company provision must therefore go further.

Accounting is a fast-paced industry, especially when clients’ year ends come into play. While some face-to-face interaction is always important, firms need to look closely at how technology can be used effectively and start a real debate about what a more flexible approach would look like.

Creating a more supportive environment and measuring all employees in terms of the value they deliver is part of this. Instead of focusing on figures such as the raw number of hours billed, firms should consider how they appraise and incentivise metrics like billings under management, effective hourly rate and new revenue closed. You might be surprised to see who’s really delivering.

Han-Son Lee is the founder of fatherhood platform Daddilife.