Flexible working hours for dads could be the future of Australia's corporate culture

Are you a dad who'd like to be able to volunteer at school, slip out to sports days or shoulder more of the caring responsibilities at home, rather than clocking 40+ hours a week in the office?

Flexible working arrangements for both genders are commonplace at a growing number of Aussie workplaces but are men much less willing than women to take advantage of them, for fear doing so will impede their career prospects?

If they're in line for a decent gig, then definitely, Blenheim Partners executive head hunter Greg Robinson says.

Divided loyalties

He believes concern they won't appear sufficiently committed prevents many men from enquiring about their options to work reduced or flexible hours, or to structure a role around their domestic commitments.

"Men tend to believe that it is more acceptable for women to ask for and take flexible work arrangements," Robinson says.

"I think there is a belief by men that they may not be considered for the role by many employers if they were to enquire about this when looking at prospective roles and packages."

Say goodbye to the corner office

They've reason to think so, according to Simran Gambhir who stepped away from a high flying ICT career 10 years ago, in order to have more time with his newborn twins.

He's spent the past decade juggling a range of part-time consulting gigs during school hours but says ambitious types who'd like to have similar work-life balance need to accept that it's not the route to senior management or the C-suite.

"Employers are becoming more and more understanding but I think the person has to understand that a natural consequence of that [choice] is if their aspiration was a career, that will slow down, there's absolutely no two ways about that," Gambhir says.

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"If you want to be a bigwig in the corporate world, you can throw that aspiration away because you know when people are paying lots of money, they will suck your blood for it… they will suck your blood in terms of time and intellect."

A question of culture

Company culture dictates whether both men and women feel comfortable asking for and accepting flexible working arrangements, regardless of whether there are formal policies enabling them to do so, according to leadership development specialist Felicity Menzies.

"If the workplace is still promoting and rewarding individuals [who] work to a more masculine stereotype of long hours, dedication to the job, not taking flexible work…then men will be less keen to take up those benefits because there will be negative repercussions for their career," Menzies says.

Change is most likely to occur if senior men lead by example, she says.

"If you have a male leader who's modelling [flexible working], that's a very strong sign to every other male in the firm that you can still lead if this is the way you work – but then you appreciate that at that level of seniority it is very difficult for either gender to work flexibly."

Walking the walk, talking the talk

Employers can help normalise the notion of men working flexibly by publicising examples of those who are doing it successfully, agrees Karen Whittaker, AGL Energy's head of organisational development.

"The idea of working flexibly is almost normalised for women, particularly women who are raising young children," Whittaker says.

"they almost have that permission factor to structure their working arrangements to fit those dual responsibilities that they have as career people and parents as well.

"I do think that men, particularly young fathers…are forging through some of that change in attitude and culture around 'why do men work flexibly and have a greater role to play as parents'.

"It's becoming more common, I think, but we've still got a way to go for men to have that permission factor that I think women have finally achieved around flexible work and I think the key to that is just continuing to call out the male examples of flexible work and really promote the role models that we have."

Career versus kids

Counting the career cost is all very well – but the benefits of a flexible work life are immeasurable, according to telecoms consultant Alex Grime. He bade farewell to a high powered job with the NBN company in late 2014 after realising the toll his 80-hour weeks were taking on his home life and now works around 35 hours a week as a consultant.

"I loved the job, I was absolutely passionate about the work, found it really rewarding, so that side of things was great but as a consequence, I really didn't get any time with the family, quality time at least," Grime says.

"I was a general manager at the time and it looked like I was likely to get a promotion as the next step. I knew when I left that I was leaving that behind but it's all very well having a great career but [if] at the end of it all, you haven't got a family, what's the point really?"

Does your work encourage flexible working hours for dads? Share your experience in the comments section below.