Spencer Gilden grabs his daughter’s lunch on the way out the door to summer camp and buckles her into a car seat. He and 4-year-old Julie spend the car ride singing Katy Perry songs or talking about camp activities. After drop-off, Gilden, 36, heads to his home office to make a sale or two of electronic components before it’s time to pick up Julie: “I love being part of her everyday life.”
This Father’s Day, research shows America is in transition. Fathers like Gilden are shifting from being traditional “organization men” into “involved dads” who are as much caregivers as they are breadwinners. While we have seen the shift happening for the past decade and studied its effect on families, new research looks at how being an involved father plays out in the workplace.
We are learning that for men, increased interaction with their children makes them more satisfied and committed to staying at their jobs. It helps them bond with other parents at work and better manage their staffs. It also can increase their productivity.
“Involved fathering has positive work-related outcomes that can benefit organizations,” says Jamie Ladge, an associate professor of management and organizational development at Boston’s Northeastern University and an author of a study on fathers published in the Academy of Management Perspectives in February.
But Ladge says her research also found that many men feel stigmatized at work if they are too “conspicuously” involved at home. They may even be made to feel less of a man: Men in Ladge’s study reported enduring negative reactions and teasing inside and outside the workplace. These reactions may be among the reasons why men use flexibility informally and decline to take paternity leave even when it is available.
“Being a little bit involved is good,” Ladge told me. “Being too involved is perceived as a bad thing.”
Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family and a coauthor of the Northeastern study, says working fathers often get “bonus points” from other parents at work for being involved in their kids’ lives, but only up to a point. Harrington told me that when a father needs to leave early to go to his daughter’s ballet recital, he may get the “aww, how nice” from colleagues or a boss. But if he needs to leave every day at 4:30 p.m. to pick up his kids, that “aww” turns to “wow, we expected you to take your job more seriously.”
The difference, Harrington says, is mothers who seek workplace accommodations are seen as less committed workers and better women, but men are seen by their organizations as less committed workers and less of a man. “We haven’t reached the point where there is enough acceptance of men as caregivers,” he says.
Even with nearly 70 percent of mothers in the workforce, women with children under the age of 18 spend about twice as much time on childcare as men do. But that ratio may be changing: Most fathers today report they are involved in bathing children, helping with homework and shuttling kids to activities, according to The New Dad report released this month by the Boston College Center for Work and Families.
Unlike prior generations, research shows being a hands-on parent and assisting with the activities of daily living seem to be a “given” for young fathers. Many fathers say they truly like spending time with their kids and that if offered a new job, they would consider how much it would interfere with their ability to spend time with their children.
John Underwood, chief marketing officer at Tinsley Advertising in Miami, enjoys taking his two boys to sports practices and birthday parties. When needed, he says he doesn’t hesitate to bring his 5-year-old son to the office for a few hours to help out with childcare. While Underwood’s wife, who works part-time, remains the primary caregiver, Underwood says he and his wife share drop-offs, pickups and the bedtime routine: “I’m involved, but I will never be able to outdo her involvement at home.”
Underwood, 47, sees the workplace benefit that Ladge describes in her research. Spending time with his kids makes him less stressed at work, more sympathetic as a bos, and more driven to bring home a paycheck. “There is added responsibility that you know you have a family at home to feed and college to pay for,” he says.
More unique to fathers, though, is the way they balance work and family. While fathers often work long hours and find themselves on-call at all times, many of them balance work and family by bypassing formal flexible work policies and just slipping out a bit early or coming in late. “Men may feel they don’t need to ask for permission because they use flexibility as needed, rather than on a regular basis,” Harrington says.
When needed, Dan McCawley, a 43-year-old law partner at Greenberg Traurig in Fort Lauderdale, will leave his office for a few hours to attend his twin sons’ musical presentation or take his sick son to the pediatrician. He said he feels no guilt when he leaves early or rearranges a meeting because he always gets his work done. “No one keeps track of my coming and going as long as I keep my clients happy,” says McCawley, a father of four who practices real-estate law. His wife, Sigrid McCawley, is a law partner at Bois, Schiller & Flexner in Fort Lauderdale and considers it critical for her career to have her husband pitch in.
McCawley says his home and office are within a few miles, allowing him to move between the two at all hours of the day — and night. He coaches his kids’ sports teams, regularly interacts with his children’s teachers, and sometimes takes client calls at 10 p.m. or pops in on weekends. “I’m juggling, but I’m also involved,” he says. “I know there’s a lot of planning that goes into making sure all kids are taken care of 24/7, but I do feel the benefit, the satisfaction of being involved.”
Underscoring the differences between fathers and mothers: The more time women spend with their children, the more stress they feel at work. But for men, increased interaction with their children has the opposite effect. They feel less stressed — and happier, according to the Northeastern study.
As the new dad continues to evolve, some progress is being made to better understand the role fathers now play at work and home. Both Ladge and Harrington told me that they believe employers will benefit, but they must pay attention to how managers treat parents. “If a father feels his manager and his organization is supportive of his work-family issues, he is more likely to be engaged in his job and stay with that employer,” Ladge says.
Gilden says the flexibility to be a caregiver, and the support from his employer based in California, is a big reason he feels satisfied with his sales position and works into the evening when necessary: “I am fortunate to be able to take my daughter to school or camp, pick her up and ask her how her day is going. It really does fulfill me.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes regularly on workplace and work life topics. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com
Dads and childcare
▪ Just over half (51 percent) of younger Americans say that if they were raising children today, the better choice for their family would be two working parents and school/childcare, according to the 23rd Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll.
▪ Men are more willing to make sacrifices to better manage work and family than women. Men are more likely to have changed jobs or careers, or said they would be willing to do so, than women. They are also more willing to give up a promotion, “move my family to another location to better manage work/family,” move to be closer to family and take a pay cut, according to a 2015 EY Global Generations survey.
▪ In a 2011 study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, 94 percent of the 1,000 male respondents agreed/strongly agreed: “If I were considering taking a new job, I would consider how much that job would interfere with my ability to care for my children,” with fathers under 40 even more committed to this than those 40 and above.
▪ A 2015 study done by Yavorsy, Dush and Schoppe-Sullivan, using time diary data from 182 couples who participated in the New Parents Project, found that 95 percent of both men and women who were about to have their first child agreed that mothers and fathers should equally share the child care responsibility.
▪ Most fathers believed they should share their children’s caregiving equally with their spouses; however, only about 30 percent of those participating in the Boston College Center for Work & Family 2011 study claimed to be actually doing that.
▪ More than three-quarters of fathers report using flex-time with 57 percent worked from home at least part of their time, according to the Boston College Center for Work & Family.
▪ 76 percent of fathers go back to work after one week or less after the birth of a child, and 96 percent after two weeks or less, according to a 2014 Boston College Center for Work and Family survey.