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Has life improved for
working fathers?

August 24 2006 - Dad's Army, a 2002 report by Richard Reeves for The Work Foundation indicated that responsibilities affecting working fathers had not yet registered on the corporate radar. Men were nervous about taking paternity leave and asking for flexible working patterns or time off to help them manage child care responsibilities. The report found that working fathers believed bosses discriminated against men who are fathers. The report also argued that real equality of opportunity for women would not be achieved until this situation changed.

The report highlighted some of the advantages of father-friendly working environments. Involved fathers tend to be happier at work and are more likely to have the 'emotional intelligence' considered essential for modern management.

The Work Foundation's director of research, John Knell said:

"Rather than women conforming to a male model of work, men and women need to join forces to overthrow it. The focus should no longer be on the dual-career couple but the dual-carer couple with both taking on the rearing of their children without either suffering a setback to their careers."

Richard Reeves added:

"Paternity leave is a great start but does not in itself constitute a 'father-friendly' approach to work. Workplace culture is hugely important and this is not just created by Dinosaur Dads at the top. Men's lack of participation to date in companies' work-family programmes perpetuates an environment where both men and women unwittingly allow childcare to be come sidelined as a mothers-only issue, rather than a parenting issue."

There are five recommendations in the Dad's Army report for companies wanting to think more creatively about employees who are parents:

  • Daddy diagnostic - find out what men want; it may not be paternity leave but leaving early on a Friday to pick up their kids for the weekend.
  • Paternity leave - is the necessary starting point but companies must think beyond it; children will need two parents throughout their lives.
  • Time sovereignty - grant employees more control of their working hours and provide a range of options: flexi-time, compressed hours, term-time working etc.
  • Culture shift - this has to come from the top but also requires staff changing their behaviour and assumptions.
  • Good work - improving the quality of the job and the working environment, as opposed to reducing hours, will have positive effects at home that will be reflected back at work.

However, being a father in 2006 has little effect on men's overall working patterns, despite reducing their working hours for a short time after the birth of a child, according to Economic and Social Research Council funded research by sociologist Dr Esther Dermott at the University of Bristol.

A new report The Effect of Fatherhood on Men's Patterns of Employment finds that fathers neither work fewer hours than non-fathers, nor see this as a problem. Current policies encouraging a better work-life balance still don't take account of how fathers would like to accommodate family life. Greater use of employee-controlled forms of flexibility and pay-related paternity leave is indicated.

Esther Dermott said:

"Fatherhood is not a good predictor of the number of hours men work once other variables are taken into account. Hours of work are significantly related to age, form of economic activity, occupation, earnings and partner's working-time."

Statistical analysis of data for men living with their dependent children contained in the British Household Panel Study and the National Child Development Survey showed that around a quarter wanted to work fewer hours; less than one per cent wanted to increase their hours and the remainder wished to maintain existing hours. These preferences did not change when the men became fathers.

Esther Dermott said:

"There is no evidence that 'new,' involved fathers are adopting a 'female model' of parenthood, with part-time work and high levels of child care. It seems that fathers don't want to work fewer hours. What professional men value most about their jobs is their ability to control their working hours so that they can leave early to go to school functions or parents' meetings - and this flexibility was also what other men most wanted."

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