How Employers can Help Stressed Dads

Father and son walking down a roadWe hear a lot about work-life balance. We also hear a lot about working moms.

There is plenty of research, discussion, and opinion pieces about whether work-life balance is attainable or just impossible. And for working moms, there’s an even bigger struggle. Companies are coming up with new ways to try to accommodate and alleviate the stress of the ‘double duty’.

But what about working dads?

How much literature on working fathers do you see in your newsfeed or articles in your favourite publication? What kinds of concerns do fathers face concerning career and even burnout?

As families become more and more egalitarian and attitudes change on paternity leave and stay-at-home-dads, people are starting to talk and research this other side of the working parent equation.

For the sake of this piece, let’s leave stay-at-home fathers for another day. We’ll focus on working fathers and fathers returning to work after paternity leave.

Issues of work-life balance and stigma exist for fathers in the workplace. Research also suggests some fathers face similar career development hurdles to what working mothers experience.

Three types of working dads

A 2016 study by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family (BCCWF) suggested that there are three types of working dads;

1. Egalitarian dads- believe caregiving should be shared equally between parents. About ⅔ of the study’s participants reported this view.

2. Traditional dads- believe caregiving should be the greater responsibility of the mother, and this is reflected in their family.

3. Conflicted dads- believe caregiving should be shared equally, but haven’t figured out how to make it work.

Only ⅓ of this study’s participants reported that parenting was actually equally shared in their households.

What could be some of the reasons for this disconnect?

Fathers at work and the stigma they face

In that same BCCWF study, researchers found that millennial fathers were less willing (than single men) to relocate for work or seek international assignments. They were also less likely to pursue advancement opportunities that would negatively impact their family and personal lives.

If that last finding surprises you, you’re not alone. It’s becoming more and more of a priority for fathers to be present and actively involved in the parenting of their children, starting in infancy.

Some fathers experience obstacles leaving and returning from paternity leave. They may feel a lack of respect from colleagues or a change in attitudes toward them. Such was the case for Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s husband, as she relayed in her Harvard Business Review article ‘What it’s like when a stay-at-home dad goes back to work?’

A 2017 study from the UK found that while mothers were viewed favourably when pursuing part-time work, fathers were not. Deemed the ‘fatherhood forfeit’, dads felt managers gave less workplace support and flexibility to them than to mothers. As well, they felt discriminated against as well as treated suspiciously by management when they asked for shifting to part-time hours for parenting reasons.

We can assume these findings are in part due to the stigma against working fathers.

Unfortunately, old gender norms and stereotypes still creep up on us, even when we want to hold more open, equal views. Think about your own experience. Have you ever caught yourself questioning a working dad’s abilities or motives for taking paternity leave? Have you ever judged a dad looking for more flexibility at work so that he could more equally share parental responsibilities?

Both men and women, parents or not, can be guilty of these thoughts or attitudes. We should all work on being better.

Read: All the advice you need to manage your unconscious bias

Employee burnout and work-life balance

We somewhat expect that working mothers experience burn out (maybe that is part of the problem??), but we’re more surprised when we hear about the toll parenting takes on working fathers. Modern Families Index Report (UK) revealed that of 2,750 parents, a third of fathers said they regularly felt burnt out, and one in five were working extra hours.

Similarly, the 2016 BCCWF study found that 15% of millennial moms and 19% of millennial dads felt work-life balance is hard to achieve. In this study, both parents reported unhappiness with work-life balance issues, with fathers reporting even more than moms.

There’s an excellent CBC Out in the Open podcast with an episode on this topic. Piya Chattopadhyay’s guest Josh Levs argues that father’s work-life balance is actually a women’s rights issue.

Levs is a Top Global Expert of Modern Dads at Work, speaker, and author of All In: Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses-And How We Can Fix it Together (2015).

In that episode, he points out that fathers also experience difficulties trying to juggle work and fatherhood; however, it’s not as socially acceptable for them to talk about it. They’re taken less seriously and sometimes scoffed at for expressing concerns. Often, less support and understanding is given to fathers trying to share responsibilities than granted to mothers.

Sometimes paternity leave or fathers taking on more of the childcare is the better choice for a family. It could be for financial or a variety of other reasons. The main point is, it’s nobody else’s concern. It’s the family’s decision to make together, and there’s no need to justify it to others.

When employers (and colleagues) show genuine support for families in their decisions about paternity leave or care, both mothers and fathers can feel less stigma and career stress.

Want more? Flexible Benefit Plans: Advantages and Disadvantages

Dads and work-life balance: Tips for employers

Here are some insights from Alongside on how to approach work-life balance for fathers;

– Employers and managers should encourage positive attitudes towards working dads, and show support  when they choose to take paternity leave or make adjustments for the sake of their families and work-life balance.

– Attitudes of leadership trickle down to employees. Your values and views inform company culture. Your employees see and take direction from how you lead, act, and treat people. Remember that this also goes for the way you view and support cases of working parents.

– Don’t reward or praise overworking or poke fun at the exhaustion of dads struggling at work (don’t do this to anyone, really!!). We all know burnout is damaging both to the individual and the company. No one is looking to add unnecessary strain to employees, but your comments just might.

– You might also want to make a point to take aside and correct colleagues you hear saying unhelpful things about working dads (or moms) in the workplace.

– When possible, seek out ways to increase flexibility and/or develop programs that support working parents. Show encouragement when employees take these options. This can improve employee retention and affect company culture positively as it shows your workplace is trying to be family-friendly. Which, by the way, is a very attractive perk for job applicants who are parents or looking to become parents.

Dads and work-life balance: Tips for parents

If you’re reading this as a dad or a mom, there are little adjustments you can make to share childcare responsibilities in the home. Here’s a few from us;

Open communication about weekly goals and schedules is essential for managing time effectively. Planning out your week together can help to at least avoid additional confusion. Plan for ways to adjust your schedules in case of children being sick or other things that come up (and they will!).

– Checking in regularly with your partner about their stress levels is also crucial. Work and parenting responsibilities fluctuate, and busier projects can come up. There might be opportunities to temporarily change up your tasks to better support each other.

– Also, it’s important for partners to talk about their career aspirations, both short-term and long-term, and make deliberate plans to help each other meet those goals.

PS: We refuse to use the word ‘burden’ in this article when describing the stress of juggling parenting and career. We feel that that’s a pretty negative way to talk about what many view as the greatest job of all… parenting.