Fathers in the Workplace: Can Men Really Do it All?

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Topic(s): job satisfaction, wellness, work-life balance
Publication: The Academy of Management Perspectives
Article: Updating the Organization MAN: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace
Authors: J.J. Ladge, B.K. Humberd, M. Baskerville Watkins, B. Harrington
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted

With more actively involved fathers in the workplace, the role of the working man is changing. The ideal worker, or an employee that is perpetually available and committed to work with minimal responsibilities outside of the job, clashes with men’s ability to be involved fathers, or men that are involved with and accessible to their children.

In order to investigate the changing expectations of fatherhood in the workplace and determine how involved fathering impacts work-related outcomes, the researchers (Ladge et al., 2015) conducted two studies. The first study involved interviews with 31 new fathers about their career and fatherhood, and the second study administered a survey to 970 fathers who worked in four different Fortune 500 organizations.

THE ROLE OF THE INVOLVED FATHER

The researchers found clear evidence for the new identity of the involved father. For example, when asked, “What are the most important aspects of being a good father?”, the participants reported more nontraditional fathering tasks as most important. These include providing love and emotional support, being involved and present in their child’s life, and being a teacher, guide, and coach. This contrasts with the largely popular view of fatherhood from past generations, which tended to view the responsibilities of fatherhood as mostly built around breadwinning.

 

INVOLVED FATHERS HAVE POSITIVE WORK OUTCOMES

The researchers found that, in general, the fathers that spend more time with their children have more positive work outcomes. Involved fathers reported greater satisfaction, meaning, and commitment to their jobs, with lowered intention to quit their job. Contrary to the research on mothers in the workplace, fathers that spend more time with their children reported less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment. Perhaps spending time with one’s children allows fathers to put work into proper perspective.

The study also found that involved fathers tend to identify themselves with their career to a lesser extent. While a weaker career identity may reduce overall commitment to work, this effect can be counteracted through increased supervisor support. Therefore, offering a supportive work environment to fathers in the workplace can result in them more closely approximating the role of an ideal worker.

 

AMBIGUITY ASSOCIATED WITH CONFLICTING ROLES

Given modern-day societal expectations for fathers to be involved in childcare responsibilities, working fathers face conflict and ambiguity with their role as a parent and societal expectations of being an ideal worker. While there has been an apparent shift from the traditional role of a working father as “distant breadwinner” or a provider of financial needs, to the more involved and emotionally caring father, the researchers found that many fathers are still defining themselves based on the traditional views of fathering in the context of work. It seems that gender and social norms of the workplace may still color the way men see themselves as fathers in the context of work. For example, in order to accommodate both the expectations of the workplace and of being a father, some fathers are employing a stealthy approach to workplace flexibility. Rather than formally negotiate arrangements through benefits provided by human resources, many working fathers informally create flexibility in their schedules. For example, they might simply leave work early to spend time with their children.

 

BOTTOM LINE FOR ORGANIZATIONS

In conclusion, as men’s involvement in their children’s lives increases, the ideal worker is no longer a standard that fathers can live up to. While we have come a long way since the 70s in accepting involved fathers in the workplace, gender and organizational norms still inhibit a complete shift to full acceptance of involved fathers who also work.

Still, this study interestingly documents ways in which more involved fathers see workplace benefits, such as increased commitment and job satisfaction. In this light, organizations shouldn’t feel threatened at the prospects of fathers who are more involved in the workplace than may be traditionally expected. Learning about the ways that fatherhood benefits employees, as well as the ways that organizations can provide additional support to people during this stage of life, can help ensure that everyone benefits.