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The more time fathers spend with their children, the better they fare on the job, new research finds

January 8, 2015

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An unfortunate effect of the contrary pulls of job and family, research has found, is that the more time working women devote to their children, the more conflict they experience on the job. Today, amid expectations that fathers will devote more time to their children than fathers have traditionally done, do they face the same dilemma? Do demands for increased family time play havoc with men's historic role as breadwinners?

Some heartening new research suggests the opposite to be the case. Based on a survey of close to 1,000 working fathers, a paper to be published next month in Academy of Management Perspectives finds that "the more time fathers spend with their children on a typical day, the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the less likely they want to leave their organizations. Further, they experience less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment."

This finding, the study continues, suggests that involved fathering is good not only for workers but for their companies "via its positive association with father's job satisfaction, commitment to their work and lowered intentions to quit."

These benefits notwithstanding, the survey also reveals that the more hours men devote to their children, the less central their careers are to their identities. As the paper acknowledges, "men's increased involvement in child-rearing is at odds with the notion of the ideal worker as one [who] puts work above all else."

Still, any weakening of dedication can be effectively countered by management support with regarding work hours and family matters, the new research finds. In the words of the study, "Ideally, individuals should be able to foster a strong sense of involvement at home and still feel connected to their careers...Analysis revealed that strong support from an organization via its management can mitigate the negative relationship between involved fathering and career identify."

Adds Jamie J. Ladge of Northeastern University, a co-author of the paper, "Within companies there is pressure toward traditional understandings of fatherhood, which conflict with men's desire to be more involved at home than male breadwinners have been in the past .Instead of promoting Ideals based on outdated gender norms, firms need to recognize fatherhood as a serious and time-consuming activity, both through formal flex programs and through encouraging supervisors to support fathers in fulfilling family commitments.. This is especially so in view of the enhanced job satisfaction and company loyalty that our study suggests is fostered by involved fathering."

Collaborating with Prof. Ladge on the paper were Beth K. Humberd of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Marla Baskerville Watkins of Northeastern University, and Brad Harrington of Boston College.

Their survey, which was conducted on-line, involved 970 fathers employed full-time as managers or professionals at four Fortune-500 companies. Averaging 43 years of age, they were more likely than not to work over 46 hours per week, and commanded a mean pay of about $80,000 a year. All were married (about 62% to working wives), and all had one or more children younger than 18 years of age. They spent a mean of 2.65 hours with their children on a typical work day (somewhat less than the national average of three hours), and rated the support they got from supervisors on family matters at 3.79 on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).

The professors found the hours spent with children had "a significant positive effect on job satisfaction, a significant negative effect on job-withdrawal intentions, a significant negative effect on work-family conflict, and a significant positive effect on work-family enrichment." They also found a negative relationship between hours spent with children and career identity, but add that "perceived managerial support lessens the negative impact," so that with the right support from supervisors "involved fathers can maintain a strong sense of career identity."

As to why spending time with their children equates with good job results for men but increased conflict at work for women, the authors surmise that, "while working fathers experience ambiguity around their fathering identity, they do not seem to experience threat to their work identities in the same way women do as mothers…Perhaps men don't experience the same level of guilt that working mothers feel and don't view caring for children as a source of stress."

The paper extends a line of research by the authors on society's transition from a view of fathers as predominantly breadwinners to one that equally embraces work and family. Their survey follows up on 31 in-depth interviews with new dads in which many expressed ambiguity with regard to the competing claims of company and home.

Examining how this plays out in the much larger sample of 970 fathers, the professors report that participants accept the importance of both claims but give an edge to that of home. For example, asked what were the most important aspects of being a good father, "providing love and emotional support" received an average rating of 4.6 on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (extremely important), while "providing financial security" and "providing discipline" each received 4.0.

At the same time, about as many participants rated providing financial security as the most important aspect of fatherhood as those who rated it moderately important or the least important, which leads the professors to remark on the "wide range of perceptions about...this stereotypical masculine responsibility."

They also note that participants assigned an importance rating of only 3.9 to "doing your part in the day-to-day childcare tasks," which prompts the researchers to wonder whether "fathers' desires to be present for their children may not carry through to their daily involvement in care-giving tasks."

In conclusion, the professors call on employers to recognize that "many of today's fathers desire to be more than the traditional organization men. On an individual level this is clearly a work in progress for today's fathers; yet, it appears to us to be more of a period of transition than one of demise or maintenance of the status quo. As men transition from a narrow definition of fatherhood to one that embraces work and family, they must find a happy medium between doing meaningful work and living meaningful lives, so that they can be effective as both workers and caregivers"

The study, "Updating the Organization Man: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace" will be in the February issue of  Academy of Management Perspectives. This peer-reviewed publication is published quarterly by the Academy, which, with more than 18,000 members in 119 countries, is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. The Academy's other publications are Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Learning and Education,  and Academy of Management Annals. A sixth publication, Academy of Management Discoveries,   is currently accepting submissions and will begin publishing in March.

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