Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

Fatherhood and Work-Family Balance

Why employers need to evolve alongside the family

Once upon a time, men were the vast majority of breadwinners. Picture those fathers – Mad-Men style – returning home after a day’s work to a smiling homemaker, clean children and a casserole on the table. Those days are gone and today’s family comes in multiple configurations, and a father’s role has evolved as well with more and more men taking an active role in parenting and domestic work.


A survey of professional fathers by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family reports that most fathers do not want to be traditional breadwinners, but value their role in caring for their children.

These changes have impacted fathers in many ways, and not always positively. For example, one 30-year long study found that between 1977 and 2008, the percentage of fathers who reported work-family conflict grew significantly more from 35% to 60%.


The Stigma Factor

Organizations interested in improving their employee engagement need to be aware of the conflict between fathers’ desires for work-family balance and the workplace reality, because employees are not likely to voice concerns themselves.

Studies show that fathers feel marginalized from access to flexible working opportunities, and are less likely than mothers to ask for flex work. In other words, a lack of work-family balance for fathers can be costing your organization in reduced morale, and therefore reduced output and engagement.

Fathers’ roles have changed, but the workplace continues to reward the “ideal worker” who is unencumbered by external demands.

Those workplaces that hinge around the “ideal worker” often push women out of breadwinning while also deterring men from caretaking, according to Dr. Joan Williams (distinguished professor of law at University of California, director of the Centre for WorkLife Law).

Work-Family Balance: A Big Rock

In today’s evolving workplace, work-family balance is high on a father’s priority list, and it is affecting his career choices. According to The Modern Families Index (2017), “Fathers…will make career sacrifices” to ensure they achieve a desirable work-family balance:

  • 69% consider childcare arrangements before taking a new job or promotion
  • they are 47% more likely to downshift to a less stressful job
  • 38% are willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance
  • 86% agree or strongly agree that “children are the number one priority in my life."

Furthermore, 93% of Millennials say paid maternity leave is somewhat, very, or extremely important. But this relatively new vocal dedication to parenthood does not mean men are less ambitious than they once were:

  • 75% of fathers wish to advance to a position with greater responsibilities
  • 60% demonstrate a strong desire to reach senior management

What to do… what to do…?

Many organizations already have work-life balance measures in place, including flexible working arrangements and parental leave policies, but research shows men are less likely than women to take advantage of flex-work and parental leave.

As explained in this blog post on work-life balance, there are a few design changes organizations can make to increase the wellbeing of the parents in their workforce:


Opt-out parental leave policies mean that a father can rest easy knowing his leave is due and will be granted with no problem. If a father has to explain his choice to opt-out, it offers management the opportunity to explain why work-life balance is a priority to the organization, and requires the employee explain why that policy and philosophy should not apply to him.


Instead of requiring an employee to make the case for the flexibility of their work assignment, let employees know they can flex their work until which point the flexibility proves to have a negative effect. Research suggests, however, that when work—hours, location—is made flexible, the worker is likely to be more productive.


The fact is, employees intuit that being a parent is a professional disadvantage. 41% of parents lie or bend the truth to their employer about family life conflicting with work. Management can reduce the parent stigma by taking parental leave, using flex-work opportunities, and by simply talking about their own work-family conflicts. Instead of explaining an early departure by saying “I’ve got an appointment,” a manager should admit “I’m going to catch the second half of my daughter’s soccer game.” A late start should not be explained by “a rough morning,” but with details like: “My son has the flu so the day got off to a bad start.” Just talking about family life can help reduce the tension around work-family life. Dr. Scott Behnson, author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home describes how one hiring manager starts orientation sessions with a family story, and asks new hires to do the same.

Who’s Leading the Pack?

Some of the world’s leading organizations have made work-family balance a priority for the fathers in their workforces.

Fatherly's Top 10 Best Places to Work for New Dads:

  1. Netflix
  2. Etsy
  3. American Express
  4. Spotify
  5. Facebook
  6. Twitter
  7. VMware, Inc
  8. Bank of America
  9. Patagonia
  10. Deloitte

Fatherly’s 2017 list of “50 Best Places to Work for New Dads” puts Netflix, Etsy, American Express, Spotify and Facebook in top spots. Netflix, for one, offers 52 weeks paid paternity leave. Etsy offers 26 weeks and a dedicated Parent’s Room. American Express has 20 weeks paid paternity leave and up to $35,000 in medical support to parents who adopt, use a surrogate, or undergo fertility treatment. Spotify offers 24 weeks paid paternity leave that is good until a child’s 3rd birthday. Facebook provides its fathers with only 17 weeks paternity leave, but offers other father-friendly policies.


Research by the Fatherhood Institute gathered data on fathers and balancing work and family which included anecdotal information and testimony. Organizations, take note of what fathers are thinking, but perhaps not saying. When it comes to people management, if an organization is looking to thrive—not just survive—the future of the workplace, it must heed the word of its new “ideal worker.”

“We need to stop making work the focus of our lives. I think men are particularly victim to the long hours culture.”

“If employers want to have a long hours culture, I don’t see how they can reconcile being family-friendly employers at the same time.”


© Dr. Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.