What Fathers Really Want: More Time with the Kids

by | Jul 31, 2015 | Business

The ugly necktie. The stereotype of awful Father’s Day gifts. In this case, the stereotype contains a hidden truth: it’s really hard to buy gifts for men with children. Sure, there’s the odd piece of electronics and I suppose some fathers who are actually handy (not the author) might enjoy a socket set, but soon enough you’re at Nordstrom’s staring at a rack of ties. My attempts to buy my father a gift have traditionally come up pretty lame and I’m no better at figuring out what I’d like for Father’s Day.

But, there is good Father’s Day news for employers. With each passing Father’s Day, more and more men want the same thing from their employers: more time with their kids.

The way that men view their role is shifting from a traditional view in which the father’s realm was the workplace and the mother’s realm was the home, to a view of more shared responsibility. Fathers are spending 6.5 hours a week on child care, double what father’s spent on children in 1960. Fathers’ increased commitment to their children is also apparent from an increasing number of parents sharing childrearing responsibilities equally and a sharp increase in stay-at-home dads.

But many companies still haven’t gotten the memo that male attitudes toward being with their children are changing. Half of working fathers found it difficult to balance job and work responsibilities and a little under half believe that they spend too little time with their children. It is easy to see why fathers would feel this way. Companies evaluate workers based on their perceived commitment to the company and availability. Often, in order to obtain promotions and raises, fathers need to work long hours and be constantly available to their superiors. As a result, many fathers must sacrifice time at home with their children in order to prove to their employers that they are valuable to the organization.

Some companies have begun to recognize that there is much to be gained by making it easier for their male employees to balance work and family obligations. Just recently, Goldman Sachs gave four weeks of paid time off to fathers. However, Goldman Sachs is the exception. Companies in the UnitedStates have been slow to adopt paid paternity leave. In 2012, more than one-quarter of the organizations listed in Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies didn’t offer paid paternity leave, while 53% of companies offered two weeks or less.

Further, more companies have begun to adopt policies that make it easier for fathers to balance their professional and family obligations. About 60% of companies offer either formal or informal flextime policies. Roughly the same percentage of companies allow their employees to telecommute. Depending on the rules of the company policy, these practices allow fathers to change their schedules or to avoid time-consuming commutes, freeing up additional time to spend with their families.

The bottom line, though, is that however much opportunity companies give their male employees to spend with their families, these policies are only going to be effective if the culture of the organization does not penalize men for using them. As a whole, for example, US workers fail to use their paid vacation time resulting in $224 billion in liabilities for their employers. While the reason for these numbers varies from company to company and worker to worker, taking the offered vacation time can be a liability for a worker’s promotion prospects. Similarly, the most progressive family leave and flextime policies are worth little if the employee is viewed by his superiors as a poor performer if he avails himself of those policies. And cultural change is not something that comes easy to many businesses.

In the end, maybe companies don’t really have it much better than the rest of us do on Father’s Day. While it’s pretty clear what fathers want, a business culture that supports a father’s efforts to spend more time with his family can be hard to find.

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