Fatherhood advocates maintain that widening work/life balance programs to address more of fathers’ needs has payback for both families and employers.
Fathers make tremendous contributions to the future through the way they raise their children, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), an organization dedicated to promoting greater involvement of fathers in family life.
Involved fathers, says NFI, “have children that perform better on almost every measure … higher self-esteem, higher grades, lower drug and alcohol use,” says a report on the NFI website. What’s more, fathers want to be involved, NFI reports. “Did you know that 7 of 10 fathers say they would take a pay cut if it meant that they could spend more time with their families?” the report’s authors ask.
What, then, is preventing this greater involvement from happening?
Fathers Reluctant To Take Time Off
In many cases, say parenting experts, there are two causes, both related to the workplace:
First, most work/life programs, when they exist, are based on the way mothers parent and are described in the policies and literature that companies put out about them in female terms. Fathers simply do not see the programs as relevant to them.
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Second is the attitude of fathers themselves. Many believe that the classic model of “father works, mother cares for children,” is still valid — a situation not in sync with today’s two-income families, in which both parents need to share the load.
According to a study done by Vanier Institute in Canada, fathers, seeing themselves as “family breadwinners,” do not take advantage of workplace work/life balance programs that may be available, for three reasons: (1) fear of lost wages, (2) fear of losing their jobs or stalling their careers, and (3) guilt that colleagues need to take over for them.
What these men and their managers may not realize, says NFI, is that allowing fathers opportunities to take time from work for family reasons is not only good for families, but also for employers.
Improved Productivity and Loyalty
“When companies help fathers, they improve their bottom line through increased productivity and loyalty, and reduced absenteeism and health care costs,” the organization reports, citing such evidence as a 50 percent drop in absenteeism at medical products maker Johnson & Johnson when flexible work hours and family leave policies were implemented.
Showing that the drive for greater parent involvement is worldwide, concrete suggestions for a “father-friendly” policy come from an Australian source, workplace.gov.au: These suggestions include:
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–Flexible scheduling, which the authors consider the most important element in creating a family-friendly workplace. “This doesn’t mean working less, but [giving workers] more control over where and when the work is done,” the authors point out.
–Communication. Explain that family-friendly policies are not “for women only,” say the authors. “Fathers may need some encouragement to start using available policies and to talk about conflicting demands.”
–Support from the Top. Senior managers should not only talk up available programs, but should serve as models by using the programs themselves.
–Workplace education for fathers, “to help them realize most of their colleagues are experiencing similar work/life imbalances.”
–Paid paternity leave, to address the issue of fathers’ fearing loss of income in their breadwinner role. Though this may be costly, the authors note that it will be needed only a few times in a father’s career.
Meanwhile, NFI is doing its own communicating to fathers about work-life balance. One ad from the organization shows a father pushing a child’s swing, and asks, “Who are you spending your quality time with?”
On the swing seat: a laptop computer.
For more on the National Fatherhood Initiative, and to conduct a “Father Friendly Check-Up for Business” on your organization, visit www.fatherhood.org.
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