According to a study by the charity Working Families, only one in three parents leave work on time. We asked readers to tell us why they work late and how their absence from home affects their families. Some names have been changed to protect identities.
Tina, 38, analyst, France: Small kids don’t need you to earn lots of money, they need you to spend time with them
There is no culture of presenteeism at my company – no one gets brownie points for staying late. If I chose, I could work at home more (I currently do one day per week at home), and leave earlier. However, I would miss out on social and professional contact, and the career and development opportunities that brings, as well as feeling more part of the team. No one is directly discriminating, but if I am not there, I do not get the opportunities that others do.
My kids would love it if I could pick them up from school. My son was asked recently what he would change if he were boss of the school, and he said: “No after-school club, the parents come every day.” When I do make it, they are so happy to see me there. If I could get home on time I would be with the kids more, to play with them, teach them things and help them with their development. It would give me more time to feel on top of things in life, not just scraping by day to day.
My mother gave up work to bring up three kids. She went back when I was about 11. We clearly benefited enormously from all her input in terms of our education and development. I feel like kids of parents who are around more get a head start in life. It may seem strange coming from a family where both parents have good jobs and are relatively well paid … but small kids don’t need you to earn lots of money, they need you to spend time with them.
Tom, 40, financial analyst, the Netherlands: I am sick of staying so late
Staff reductions with increased workloads make for a permanent sense of job insecurity. As the primary source of family income, covering all expenses, including mortgage and school fees, I feel the pressure to ensure I can continue to support them. I seldom work less than 50 hours a week.
It is often hard on my children, who complain about what time I return home. My wife can be stressed by having to deal with the children for long periods without additional support, and I am sick of staying so late. That said, in the time away from work I do try to ensure that I’m present and available: that we spend good-quality time together, doing things like reading bedtime stories and walking the dog. But I’m a person who also needs alone time, and getting anything like a reasonable balance no longer feels possible.
Molly, 34, architect, Dublin, Ireland: Having to leave early for work means I can’t breastfeed my son
I think a lot of architects are still recovering from the last recession, which left many of us unemployed or out of the industry for several years. So when the whole office is still there at 7pm it is difficult to be the only one leaving on time each day. It has a terrible impact on us. I have a young son and he will only go to bed for me. If I am home late he goes to bed late and is exhausted and upset. My current office is relatively flexible if I come in early but it is limited. The only reason I stay late is because being unemployed again is worse than the stress of working late and having a tired baby.
An unexpected problem I have is that it affects breastfeeding, because with my working hours it is difficult to be there both when my son wakes and falls asleep. He only has milk at those two times, so some days he misses out on that crucial nutrition. That is an extremely difficult thing for me – to leave early for work with him asleep because he is exhausted, and me knowing he isn’t getting his milk.
Owen, 41, manager, Washington DC, United States: It’s affected the kids’ concentration at school
There is more work to do than the staff can deliver. I know that to keep my manager’s salary I need to continue to deliver the same results so I end up working until 7 or 8pm. I used to take work home to do after the family dinner when the kids are in bed, but as I get older I find it harder to motivate myself back to work once I’ve switched off. Hence I stay later. Mealtimes and bedtimes get pushed back. This was fine for a while, but recently it’s affected the kids’ concentration at school and even their grades – although I can’t say this is definitely the reason, it just feels like it. It also puts a strain on my wife, who has the kids all by herself for longer. If I had more time with my family I think they would be happier as the day-to-day events wouldn’t always come second to work.
Stef, 38, PR manager, Scotland: I probably don’t play enough with my kids
I like my job, so staying later at work is satisfying; I get home around 7.30pm most nights. It also helps to delay having to face the chaos of over-tired children, the bedtime battle and hours of chores that wait for me. I probably don’t play enough with my kids; my husband does that more than I do. I end up having very little time with them during the week, but I don’t work Friday afternoons so I make up for it then, if I can. Also, my house is an absolute tip – all of the time. If I didn’t stay so late at work, my kids might have a better bedtime routine if I were there, as I am strict about trying to get to bed on time.
Jason, 38, software developer, Nagoya, Japan: We feel guilty when we can’t do things as a family
The primary reason I stay late is the workload. The workload in an average week is about 65 hours, and falling behind is considered a sign of poor performance that can seriously limit a person’s career. I have no plans on staying in the same job beyond 45, and this means needing to stay late to stay afloat. Our son is less than a year old and quite an active child. My wife is always exhausted. She just doesn’t have time to accomplish everything she needs to do for her work, and everything she wants to do at home. I help out as much as I can with the laundry, dishes, nappies, bottles, and everything else, but there’s only so much noise you can make after 10 on a work night. When the weekend comes around, we want to spend as much time together as a family, but end up dedicating half of our waking hours to cleaning. We feel guilty when we can’t do things as a family. We feel awful when the house is a mess. But we feel exhausted by nine every night. Going home early would open up our evenings and weekends more.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010