Seminars on work-life balance that use terms like “biological clock” and “mompreneur” are tired clichés at women’s conferences, but increasingly it’s not just working women who are feeling the pressures of having plenty of ambition and money, but no time. Research suggests that fathers are increasingly considering these issues and are just as conflicted over the best way to juggle their workplace and home roles.
A new study called The New Dad: Caring, committed and conflicted was conducted by professors at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, and it turned up some interesting facts about working fathers. “Today, the percentage of ‘traditional families’ in the U.S. has slipped from more than 45% in 1975, to just over 20%,” the authors say. They found that fathers in dual-earner couples feel “significantly greater work-life conflict than mothers, and this level of conflict has risen steadily and relatively rapidly.”
The fathers agreed (about 90%) that their work is meaningful to them, and most hoped to advance in their companies and take on more responsibility. They were also generally happy with their careers and their success so far. But two out of three respondents also said work was just a small part of who they are and most of the fathers aspired to share equally in caregiving with their partner. Sadly, these good intentions aren’t translating. Fathers in the study were not taking time off of work to care for their children (and build parenting skills) in the formative years of development, and did not share parental duties equally the way they believed they should.
So, what should companies take away from this? The study offers a few key points:
• Dads like to make use of flexible work hours, but need the flexibility to be informal and unstructured. This could be because they don’t like asking for formal permission, or it may be because they feel more “stealthy” when they duck out of work early without having to clear it with their employer.
• Reduced hours or part-time work isn’t a popular option for dads. The research shows that women are far more likely than men to work part-time, but professional men just don’t see this as a serious option.
• A company that supports the idea of family (and seems understanding of the demands on parents) breeds more satisfied, loyal workers.
• Fathers like job security. Many companies are focused on employee engagement, talent management and total rewards programs, but this research shows that men who aren’t worried about the volatile job market are happy, and this is the most valuable way to retain top talent.
The authors also offer fathers a few tips to bridge the divide between their parental and career ambitions and responsibilities:
1.) Abolish the idea of having it all. This is a lesson that’s repeated at women’s conferences all the time, but men need to hear it too. No one person can be both the perfect parent and employee. Fathers should take time to sit down and set goals for their careers, but allow for flexibility and keep in mind what’s best for the family. Setting these goals and being conscious of their own boundaries will allow them to be more confident when making the decision to leave early, or stay late.
2.) Seriously consider taking paternity leave. As the researchers say: “fathers who take more time-off early in their child’s life will have a higher likelihood of being a hands-on caregiver than fathers who do not.” Parenting is a skill that needs to be learned, and fathers should make the opportunity to develop these skills early in their child’s life to build their confidence and competence in dealing with kids if they truly want to share parenting duties equally.
3.) Give fellow fathers a pat on the back. Dads need to give the support and sympathy they hope to receive to other dads. This research reinforces the idea that work-family balance is important to men, and fathers “can either reinforce ‘macho stereotypes’ (e.g. only those who work excessive hours are truly committed) that make it difficult for women and men to be effective parents, or they change the norms and recognize individuals’ work and family responsibilities.”