Dad usually gets a new tie or some other token of appreciation from the kids in observance of Father’s Day. But what he may want more is a little extra support at work.
Working moms are often at the center of discussions about work-life balance – how to get the children to school and still get to work on time, how to juggle kids’ activities with work deadlines, etc. – but dads can find themselves in the same bind.
A series of U.S. Census Bureau reports released in December 2011 examined child-care arrangements in spring 2010. The statistics showed that among fathers with a wife in the workforce, nearly a third (32 percent) were a regular source of care for their children under age 15. That’s up from 26 percent in 2002. Among fathers with preschool-age children, one in five was the primary caregiver, meaning their children spent more time in their care than any other arrangement.
Working dads’ needs
With so many fathers tending to their children, it’s no wonder working dads often crave the kind of workplace practices that working moms find helpful, things like flexible hours, the ability to work from home at least occasionally, and time off for small family emergencies such as picking up a sick child.
A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization promoting policies aimed at helping employees meet conflicting work and family demands, released a study in June 2011 on working fathers. The group surveyed approximately 250 working dads from 31 states and Washington, D.C. Most were white-collar professionals.
Here are some key findings.
Almost 85 percent of the respondents said they felt under pressure to be both a provider and an engaged father in their children’s daily lives.
Seventy-five percent worried that their jobs kept them from being the kind of dads they wanted to be.
Nearly seven out of 10 said they would personally benefit from flexible work arrangements such as flexible hours and the ability to work from home.
Eighty-five percent of the respondents said they would be encouraged to take advantage of family-friendly workplace policies if they saw senior leaders setting an example or colleagues who use those practices still advancing in their careers.
Even though the study showed working dads appreciate work-life balance policies, it also showed the mere existence of such policies isn’t enough. The study found that many dads are reluctant to take advantage of family-friendly policies when they exist. Instead, many of the working fathers surveyed were more likely to rely on informal arrangements with their bosses than formal workplace policies.
The study states that “respondents were more than twice as likely to say that ‘having a supportive manager and workplace culture’ is more important than having formal family-friendly policies.”
A slim majority of the surveyed working dads (51 percent) said they would not be reluctant to take advantage of an employer’s family-friendly policies, but almost as many (49 percent) reported hesitation to take advantage of such policies. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents said they would be “somewhat reluctant” to take advantage of flexible work policies, and 10 percent said they would be “very reluctant.”
Tips for employers
Employers wanting to help fathers stay engaged on the job and at home can adopt various family-friendly policies and encourage a supportive culture. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a list of best practices for dealing with employees who have caregiving responsibilities.
The guidance is aimed at far more than just working fathers since it’s designed to help employers avoid claims of family responsibilities discrimination by all kinds of employees. But it provides a starting point for employers that encourage family-friendly policies.
Here are some highlights from the guidance:
“Ensure that managers at all levels are aware of, and comply with, the organization’s work-life policies.” The guidance states that employers may want to provide incentives for managers to ensure that their employees are aware of work-life balance programs. Employers also may want to assess supervisors’ willingness to assist employees who have caregiving responsibilities.
“Respond to complaints of caregiver discrimination efficiently and effectively.” That includes investigating complaints and taking corrective action and prevention measures.
“Protect against retaliation.” Employers should provide assurances that if employees complain of unfair treatment the employer will protect them from retaliation.
“Focus on the applicant’s qualifications for the job in question. Do not ask questions about the applicant’s or employee’s children, plans to start a family, pregnancy, or other caregiving-related issues during interviews or performance reviews.”
“Identify and remove barriers to re-entry for individuals who have taken leaves of absence from the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities or other personal reasons.”
“Review workplace policies that limit employee flexibility, such as fixed hours of work and mandatory overtime, to ensure that they are necessary to business operations.”
“Provide reasonable personal sick leave to allow employees to engage in caregiving even if not required to do so by the family and Medical Leave Act.”
“Develop the potential of employees, supervisors, and executives without regard to caregiving or other personal responsibilities.”