If you ask the working dads in your organization how they define themselves, you might be more likely to hear answers like “father” and “family man” than “executive” or “accountant.” Two major studies released earlier this year revealed that men no longer root their identities in their jobs.
It’s time for organizations to recognize—and accommodate—their male employees as parents, with the same needs as working mothers for day care, time off to tend to sick kids and flexibility to attend school plays and Little League games.
Surveys by the Boston College Center for Work & Family and WorldatWork agree that men are struggling to balance the need to both care for their families and work to support them.
The upshot: Work/life issues are no longer women’s domain.
“Working men and women around the world seek the same Holy Grail: success in both their work and family lives,” notes Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress. “The assumption that male identity is rooted in work and not family is a major impediment to the effective integration of employees’ work and family lives.”
Here are 11 recommendations from the surveys’ authors:
1. Build in leeway. Flexibility about where and when work happens tops the work/life wish list for working parents of both genders. Employers of all sizes have found ways to allow occasional telework and flexible start and end times.
2. Allow employees to use flexibility informally. Men might be more likely to flex their schedules if they can do it without the fanfare that they fear will raise questions about their dedication to their careers.
3. Be transparent about job security. It’s a huge concern for working fathers. To the extent possible, try to be frank about how safe (or unsafe) jobs are during this unstable economy.
4. Use gender-neutral language and labels. Make the talk, the literature and the perception of work/life benefits equally applicable to men and women. Few men will participate in programming that’s part of your organization’s women’s initiative. Call it a program for working parents instead of working mothers, and men will be more inclined to sign up.
5. Consider adopting a “paternity leave” policy that allows new dads four or more weeks off after the birth of a child. The Boston College study found that only one in 20 fathers took as much as two weeks off to bond with their babies.
6. Offer day care in some form: on-site, vouchers for nearby centers, referrals, back-up care. Working fathers named day-care options as the second most important work/life benefit, just behind flexibility.
7. Continually publicize financial counseling resources. Money worries cause the most stress for working couples. Don’t assume your employees know about EAP or financial advisor benefits you may offer. Regularly talk them up.
8. Create affinity groups for new dads and for working fathers. Getting together as a group gives men “permission” to talk about their children and their care-giving responsibilities.
9. Acknowledge male employees’ dual roles as dads and workers. Whenever you celebrate working mothers, do the same for their male counterparts.
10. Engage managers in a conversation about the changing role of men and women at home and work. One study found a lingering preference among managers to work with employees with few personal commitments—and that they expect men to be more available than women because their wives assume more responsibility for the house and kids.
11. Leaders—at all levels—should share with employees their own work/life struggles. This could remove a common fear among rank-and-file men: That if they take advantage of flexibility or other work/life benefits, they will suffer career penalties.
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