Professional men are rethinking their careers to spend more time with their children.
This was the headline of a recent article in The Times. I know a fair number of men who have decided against the daily commute and “corporate life” because they want more control over their working hours to spend more time with their children. And I know many more men who have worked out informal flexible working arrangements with their boss, to enable them to work from home more. But this, too, has its problems – conference calls with children in the house is stress inducing!
The ability to work flexibly is a powerful retention tool and encourages employee loyalty – wouldn’t it would be great if more organisations embraced flexible working? Unfortuately there is a still a stigma attached to men requesting to work more flexibly. People might question how serious you are about your career. Career success is still equated to putting the hours in and being available.
There’s some good research that suggests that many men, mostly fathers, do work flexibly but do so informally, not through resorting to company policy (that were mostly written to encourage women’s flexibility). It comes down to your supervisor (manager / director / VP etc) and how supportive they are. If you’ve got a good boss, someone who’s enlightened and probably a parent as well, then flexible working is more achievable. After all, you’re probably going to be answering emails, and all that, after your child’s bed-time. Research shows that flexibility leads to happier employees, better retention, more productivity. It’s time for fathers to start having these conversations with their managers without fear of being stigmatised. In some roles it may not work. It’s difficult to to be a GP who works from home, or run a restaurant….
There’s another really powerful reason for enabling men to work more flexibly to be more involved fathers. More women than ever want – need- to get back in to the workplace after having children to continue their career. Right now, in families where both parents work, there is a growing proportion of women who earn more than their partners, and this is a growing trend for women. If a man can pick up the caregiving responsibility why can’t more women take on primary the wage earner role. Even better, what can’t both work – flexibly – to manage their careers and be there there for the children. This might be a utopian view for some, dystopian for others.
Right now my concern is that many men feel deeply conflicted that they really should be living up to the role of primary breadwinner, that’s their identity. And there’s also a more modern societal expectation of being an involved dad and there’s guilt about not being able to fulfil either role as well as they might hope.