Balancing Work and Family

Increased Demands

One root of the problem for today's dad is that most men have wives who work. So for purely pragmatic reasons, they have had to help out more with the kids and around the house. Indeed, studies find that in recent decades, men's average chore time has gone up by about an hour while women's has dropped by 36 minutes (though overall, women still do most of the housework). But today's father not only has to be more involved -- he wants to be. "Even though fathers often seem to put a higher priority on career than family, men today say they want to be very involved with their children," says Ted Cohen, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University, in Delaware, Ohio.

Their involvement is clearly good for children: Studies find that caring fathers have a number of positive effects on kids' development, including boosted confidence and self-control. But as men have taken on more at home, workplace demands have soared as well. Far more workers today say they must toil "very hard" or "very fast" than was the case 20 years ago, and 60 percent say they don't have time to finish all their tasks. As a result, men work an average of three and a half more hours a week than they did two decades ago, and about a third of them bring work home at least once a week.

On paper, companies boast that they're family-friendly: The Family and Medical Leave Act requires firms with more than 50 employees to offer unpaid leave to eligible workers for personal or medical reasons, and many companies have begun offering programs to help parents juggle competing demands. Some businesses help employees find day care. At other companies, managers are encouraged to be flexible with hours. Yet few men take advantage of these benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor confirms that men with young children are far less likely than women to take time off under FMLA. Though about a third of fathers with young children take some time off, significant numbers of men never ask for their entitled paternity leave.

Economics is part of the reason: Men are more likely than women to have full-time jobs and serve as the main breadwinner in the family. But just as important, according to government surveys, workers fear that putting a priority on family will hurt their prospects for advancement or make them lose seniority.

Matt Tomley*, a marketing manager at a Dallas firm, thinks those fears are justified. Seven weeks before his wife was due to deliver their second child, the company asked him to take on a six-week assignment in Boston. When he declined because he feared he would miss the birth, his boss chillingly replied, "This could hurt your career." Three weeks later, he was laid off in a company-wide cutback. "I can't prove it wouldn't have happened anyway," he concedes. "But when an organization is trying to be lean and mean and there's a guy who's not adapting to conventional expectations, it makes sense to cut that one."

Are the pressures any different for fathers than they are for mothers? Men say yes. "For the sake of diversity, companies need to be perceived as woman-friendly and need to have examples of 'mommy track' executives who have made it," says a mid-level manager at one Fortune 500 company. "But no one in his right mind is going to hold up that kind of standard for men -- and they don't have to, because there are lots of young bucks who will make the necessary sacrifices if I don't."

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