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Work/Life Benefits for Dads Can Give Employers Edge

By Kathy Gurchiek  6/15/2007
 

While dads often spend long hours away from their families to provide for them, more men are becoming aware of the importance of balancing work and the responsibilities of fatherhood.

In fact, flexible work schedules are the workplace benefit fathers appreciate most (53 percent), followed by telecommuting (34 percent), on-site child care (12 percent) and paid paternity leave (10 percent).

That’s according to the online Monster Intelligence Father’s Day Survey of 1,011 full-time job seekers that included 330 working fathers and 473 working mothers.

“We’ve come a long way as working dads, as men in the workforce, in being open about the flexibility we need and also having a family life,” new dad Paul Spicer told SHRM Online.

Vice president of marketing and communications at Richmond, Va.-based TecAccess, the self-described “workaholic” works flexible hours since becoming a parent in January 2007.

Although he often travels for work, Spicer shares caregiving responsibilities with his wife for their newborn. She works full time in pharmaceutical sales; in 2006 she was her employer’s No. 1 salesperson for Virginia.

“There’s still a long way to go,” he said of work/life balance for fathers. “Fathers may be a little more reluctant to admit their parenting responsibilities,” he said. Spicer observed that they often are “more stealth-like” in breaking away from the office to pick up children, for example.

“I think dads may be a bit more gun-shy [about voicing] that they need more flexible working practices,” he said. “While opting out of an evening meeting or being unable to stay at the office can mean death to our careers, I do not find that to be the case [at his current employer].”

He takes pains to stay in touch with colleagues and advise them of his schedule; he overcompensates by putting in additional hours.

“I will find myself working at night [until 11 p.m. or midnight because] I do want to make sure that co-workers are not thinking that I’m slacking off in the middle of the day,” he said, when his flexible schedule allows him to be out of the office. “I want to be this great father and I also want to be that great employee.”

Competitive Edge

Employers that offer ways for men to achieve a work/life balance could gain an edge in recruiting and retaining talent, according to Peter Castrichini, vice president of compensation, benefits and HR operations at Monster.

More than half of the fathers in Monster’s survey think that their employers should be more considerate of the needs of working dads.

“Given the current war for talent and looming skills shortage, employers should recognize that offering benefits such as flexible work arrangements and paid paternity leave is a key tactic for recruiting and retaining talent,” Castrichini said.

“We’ve seen this first-hand at Monster,” he added, “especially with the newer generation of workers, so we’ve adapted our work/life benefits to attract and retain these workers.”

Working dads are increasingly embracing work/life balance benefits—such as paid paternity leave and flexible work schedules—that until recently were used only by mothers, Monster found. Among its findings:

    • 71 percent of dads with a child under age 5 took employer-provided paternity leave; 48 percent of dads with a school-age child took paternity leave.

    • Among men whose employers offered paternity leave, 58 percent used it.

    • 71 percent of men adopted flexible work schedules when their employers offered it.

    • When searching for a job, 82 percent of men view companies more positively if they offer a flextime benefit.

However, a Father’s Day survey by workplace solutions firm Adecco found that 59 percent of 223 men (who are employed full or part-time and are parents or legal guardians of at least one child) would not take paid paternity leave, saying they couldn’t afford it (46 percent), they feared it would harm their career (31 percent), their co-workers or clients depended on them to be on the job (28 percent) or they were too busy to take extended time away from work (28 percent).

A few didn’t think they’d do a good job caring for the baby (12 percent) or have the patience (8 percent) to spend that much time with the newborn.

“Fathers probably face more pressure to stay on the job than mothers do when a baby comes along,” said Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer for Adecco USA.

“Now it’s the employers’ turn to do a better job of implementing benefits and policies that allow for dads to achieve sustainable work/life balance,” she said in a press release.

Policies that don’t recognize the need for work/life balance can contribute to presenteeism, suggests Ted Tuerk, SPHR, director of HR at J.P. Mascaro & Sons in Audubon, Pa., and an HR veteran of 16 years.

The work ethic at his employer, where he’s been employed for two years, equates long hours with success and the value the employee brings to the company, he said. Employees are expected to work 60 or more hours per week.

“I have a choice not to do that,” Tuerk said. “I may not lose my job over it, but I will not be paid as much, either.”

He puts in the hours, which often include half-days on Saturdays, he said, to “build a strong career for myself so I can provide for my family, and taking a lot of time off is not a way to do that for my family.”

His wife of 23 years works full time outside the home, as a secretary in the high school their two teenage sons attend.

“Luckily, my wife does have a pretty flexible schedule, so she’s there for the kids when she needs to be, but I end up feeling left out of my family life most of the time,” Tuerk told SHRM Online.

“I’m looking back and seeing how quickly [the boys] grew up and I’m realizing how much I’ve missed and how much more I’d like to be there for them, but it’s simply not possible in today’s work world.”

Making It Work

When Spicer and his wife started talking about having a family, he was employed elsewhere and just beginning his career. He was reluctant to ask for a flexible work arrangement.

“I did not feel that I had earned the credentials to ask for more flexibility and more father-friendly workplace [benefits], and even if I asked … it was a very 9-to-5 grind.”

It was not a work culture where such a request would be honored, he said, adding, “I didn’t see a great push from the HR department [beyond having the conversation].”

Part of the blame rests with himself, he said.

However, “[Men] still have a ways to go to admitting we also need to take time out for parenting purposes, and I think it goes back to … some very ingrained traditional male-female roles.”

The employer should make sure new fathers know they understand, appreciate and will accommodate their additional family responsibilities, Adecco advises.

Other tips:

    • Expand parental benefits to include fathers.

    • Make policies conventional so that they are known companywide and become part of the norm.

    • Work with the new fathers to negotiate an environment that best fits personal and professional needs.

Spicer suggests that HR create an open environment where a father does not feel that his career will be hindered for seeking ways to have a better work/life balance.

“Manuals and orientations set the tone, and that’s the framework you have to work from, but where it plays out [is] in the daily interactions of the supervisor who’s carrying out that manual,” Spicer said.

That requires training supervisors to be open to having those conversations, with supervisor and employee realizing that “maybe not all [requests] will be implemented,” he said. “We’re going to meet halfway in some sort of compromise.”

Employers That Support Fathers

Tony Sevilla initiated such a conversation when interviewing for BHP Billiton. He works as global HR manager of development for one of its petroleum units headquartered in Houston.

Sevilla has had full custody of his two teenage sons since April 2003 and was open about his need for “periodic flexibility” when he interviewed for his current job, he said.

“I knew if I wasn’t a fit for them I needed to know that [right away],” Sevilla said.

The vice president of HR who interviewed him was a single mother with a 4-year-old child. She “immediately related to my situation,” he said.

Sevilla’s work involves international travel, and he employs a nanny who stays with his sons on the weekends and evenings he’s away on travel; it’s a paid benefit he negotiated. In addition, he relies on other single parents, his mother and a neighbor he reimburses.

“The more difficult thing has been getting [my sons] into the doctor,” but finding a pediatrician with evening and weekend hours has helped, observed Sevilla, who carpools to the office. His workday starts at 6:30 a.m. and often lasts as late as
7:30 p.m.

Sevilla is fortunate. He’s a well-paid professional with outside help and whose two previous employers also were “very strong about family-friendly policies.”

That employer support is crucial.

“It’s very stressful when you’re a single parent, whether you’re a mom or dad,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep your family first. The child will have to come first. Work is second. These days we move around a lot, but you only get one set of kids.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

 

Related Articles:

EEOC: Caregiver Status Doesn't Guarantee Protection, SHRM Online Diversity Focus Area, June 2007

EEOC Issues Guidance on Working Caregivers , HR News, May 25, 2007

We Are Family , HR Magazine, April 2007

Employers Urged To Make Workplace More ‘Father-Friendly’, HR News, March 1, 2007

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews

 

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