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Working parents fear family responsibilities will hurt careers

The majority of working parents worry that family obligations could hurt their careers, possibly getting them fired, demoted, or passed over for promotion, according to a survey released Tuesday from Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the Watertown-based child care provider.

Of more than 1,000 working parents polled online for the company’s Modern Family Index, six out of 10 feared negative repercussions from having to address family duties that interfered with work. Of those parents, nearly half were concerned they could get fired, and more than a third worried that they could be denied a raise or never get another promotion.

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As a result, nearly a quarter of working parents reported lying about family responsibilities; one in three admitted to faking an illness to explain an absence from work.

Cheryl Jones, a public relations and marketing professional from Framingham, said she was perceived as less dedicated and available when she started leaving work at 4:30 p.m. after her daughter was born, even though she logged back into work in the evenings and on weekends. She was passed over for challenging assignments and promotions, she said, and eventually left to start a firm with her husband.

“I felt like I was seen as a part-time worker,” she said.

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Talk of family friendly workplaces has been going on for decades, noted David Lissy, chief executive of Bright Horizons, but the survey makes it clear that many people still struggle to juggle professional and parental responsibilities. This stress is felt almost equally by men and women, the survey found, with 46 percent of fathers and 52 percent of mothers saying child care is a daily concern.

The key to achieving real family friendly workplaces is establishing a culture where employees feel comfortable telling their bosses, for example, that they need more flexible hours to care for a mother with Alzheimer’s or a sick child, or both, Lissy said. Fostering open channels of communication, backed by a willingness to help employees tend to family matters, fosters loyalty and increases productivity.

Indeed, 85 percent of parents surveyed for Bright Horizons said they’d be willing to make at least one sacrifice in return for dependable child care, including turning down a higher-paying job (35 percent), giving up a raise (31 percent), or giving up a week of paid vacation a year (50 percent of fathers, 41 percent of mothers).

“When employees don’t feel they can be open and transparent with their supervisors about the things that are causing friction between work and home life, that’s where it all breaks down,” he said.

“Over time, more employers have definitely stepped up to address this issue because I think they recognize that they need the talent to be engaged in order for them to succeed. But still I think there’s a lot of work to do.”

Lissy was in Washington Monday to participate in a White House summit on working families, a gathering of business leaders, worker advocates, economists, and legislators to explore policy changes that can help working families.

Lissy participated in a CEO round table with President Obama to share strategies on how to best address the needs of parents in the workforce — and to help create a group of business leaders who will focus on working parents’ needs.

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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