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“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”: Study Reveals Effects of COVID on Working Dads

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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If you were asked to sum up 2020 in one sound-effect what would it be? Perhaps you’d go for the exasperated sigh in tandem with forehead slap and exaggerated eye-roll. Or maybe you’d plump for a full-throttle raspberry accompanied by double V-signs. Bottom line: it’s hard to sum up what a tricky old year it’s been as COVID disrupted our lives with diabolical efficiency.

Dr Sarah Cotton an organisational psychologist from Transitioning Well decided to pose some slightly more constructive questions on the topic. “We wanted to do some research to find out what can we actually learn from this incredible year.” she explains. “Because workplaces are really looking to reset in 2021, and I don’t want dads to be forgotten in that reset.”

The resulting survey conducted by Di Marzio Research quizzed 100 working dads and included 11 in-depth interviews. Admittedly, the scope was somewhat limited, but the final report: The Juggle and The Struggle: Working Fatherhood Through COVID-19 and Beyond contains observations that will have any dad nodding their head in agreement.

“What the dads were saying was that obviously there’s been a host of conflicting demands on them,” Sarah says. “And the effects of that range from the good and the bad to the ugly.”

THE GOOD

64% of survey respondents agreed that COVID-19 has been a “blessing in disguise” allowing them to spend more time with their family.

“People were saying, ‘I don’t have to commute, I can be at home for tea time. I can help my partner more’,” Sarah says. “There were some real golden moments to all of that.”

72% agreed that COVID-19 has helped them to better appreciate the most important things in life.

“I actually think that’s very profound,” Sarah says. “Something I heard time and time again was, “We’ve gone back to the simple things. I really appreciate stuff now that I didn’t before.

“Dads have to harness this opportunity to reset their work-life world. Transition gives us many challenges, but it also gives us these golden opportunities.”

72% have taken on more household responsibilities (domestic and caring) during COVID-19

And yes, we’re definitely putting this in the “good” category. Despite those lectures you’re copping about the “right way” to fold a towel.

THE BAD

50% said that they found it difficult to manage work and parenting responsibilities.

“It was just that juggle and increased stress – too many responsibilities in one confined space,” Sarah says.

“Interestingly, a lot of dads said that they didn’t have their usual outlets to switch off. During the 5km lockdown, for example, guys who love their bikes weren’t able to go on those long rides. They weren’t able to go to the gym. They weren’t able to have the commute to and from work that many used as their time out.”

43% said they lacked employer support during COVID-19 because there was: no change, same expectations, and no flexibility or support.

One in three of the dads surveyed revealed their working hours had to change during COVID. “I do believe some of that was just having to work around their other caring responsibilities that became more evident with actually working from home,” Sarah says.

This is symptomatic of the extent to which the pandemic impacted our working lives. Yet many workplaces refused to acknowledge COVID’s disruptive new reality.

61% reported that employer support was easier for mothers to access than for fathers, due to stigma, society expectations, culture or outdated policies.

It’s not enough for a workplace to simply offer employer support – the culture also needs to actively encourage its uptake.

THE UGLY

69% were concerned about the impact that COVID-19 had on their own well-being.

“I just think that that’s incredible,” Sarah says. “We know that men are very unlikely to seek help. But this shows how many dads recognised the impact the stresses and strains were having on them.”

78% were concerned about the impact that COVID-19 had on those closest to them (partner and children) and their well-being.

From children missing out on academic or social milestones to marital upheaval, few households escaped some form of negative fallout.

WHAT’S NEXT

Sarah’s big take-home from this research is that working dads have to pounce on this opportunity to reset. “That requires conversations,” she admits. “But choose discomfort over resentment.”

With your partner, that conversation might relate to the division of the domestic and caring responsibilities. With your employer, it might involve discussing your flexibility options.

“That employer conversation is going to be different for all of us, based on whether you want to do drop-offs, pick-ups, go part-time, or take off school holidays,” Sarah says. “But have those conversations. Don’t just leave it to chance. You don’t want to let those good things that have happened just be a COVID reality.

“The pandemic gave us a lot of newfound challenges,” she adds. “But there were also newfound opportunities.”