My Presentation Today at the EAM-International Conference in Seville, Spain: Changing Work-Family Dynamics for Men

The academic life has its perks. Today, I am in the gloriously beautiful Seville, Spain, to present as part of a symposium on emerging and under-studied themes in work-family research and practice. I’ll be presenting about- surprise surprise- fathers’ work-family issues. Here’s a sneak peek.

Greetings from Seville! (photo from Trekexchange.com)
Greetings from Seville! (photo from Trekexchange.com)

My co-presenters are the fabulous:

  • Suzanne C. de Janasz from IMD in Switzerland
  • Monique Valcour from EDHEC in Nice, France (and who guest posted on this blog and writes great stuff at HBR blogs)
  • Diana Ritchie of the Spouse Career Centre in Switzerland, and
  • Joy Alice Schneer from Rider University in NJ.

I’m proud to be included in such great company.

The summary of our symposium:

For the last 30 years, researchers have been examining work-family conflict and its impact on individuals, families and organizations and helping us understand the factors that contribute to and mitigate the conflicts experienced by those attempting to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. In this symposium, however, we examine phenomena that are emerging and therefore mostly unstudied. The panelists are academics and practitioners whose research and consulting focuses on individuals and organizations, from countries in primarily North America and Europe. We will discuss global competitive and organizational trends that necessitate future research to address these emerging work-life challenges.

And here’s the summary of my presentation:

There is a growing recognition that work-family issues are increasingly relevant for working fathers.

The issues faced by fathers have always been recognized in work-family research, but most often as a secondary focus, or with men as the comparison group (e.g., Pleck, 1985). Considering the drastically changing natures of family and work roles leading up to the millennium, this implicit or explicit emphasis on women was justified. Workplaces were transformed as women joined professional ranks in large number, and family dynamics were forever altered, as dual-career couples became more common that traditional breadwinner-caretaker households. As a result, most research appropriately focused on the challenges faced by women juggling career and family, and most innovations in practice focused on formal workplace programs aimed at working women (formal flextime, telecommuting or job-sharing options).

Over the past decade, two major factors have begun to shift the attention of researchers and workplace practices towards the inclusion of men more fully into work-family research and practice. First, there is a growing recognition that balancing career and family roles is an increasingly mainstream concern and struggle for men (Levine & Pittinsky, 1998). For instance, the Boston College Center for Work-Family’s (Harrington, VanDuesan & Humberd, 2011) large-scale study on working fathers indicated that men feel as much work-family conflict as women, spend an average of 2.6 hours a working day with their children, see their primary role as providing their children with love and emotional support with their children (as opposed to a primary breadwinner role), and believe that both spouses should provide equal amounts of time to caregiving duties.

Second, there is now a widespread recognition that organizational responses to work-family issues featuring formal programs and visible accommodations of work to family were not being utilized by men. This is due to such concerns about negative career consequences and extra stigma attached to men who seem less than fully dedicated to the workplace (Behson, 2005).

Together, these two factors have given rise to an understanding that work-family issues can be best balanced by both men and women through workplace culture (e.g., Allen 2001; Duxbury & Gover, 2011; Memser-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005) and appropriate workplace flexibility. For many men, the ideal work-family accommodation is informal and less-visible (e.g., Behson, 2002; Hill 2005), such as an informal agreement with one’s supervisor to telecommute up to 25% of one’s time, on an as-needed basis. In fact, Harrington, et al. (2011) found that 68% of working men used informal flextime and 57% worked from home some of the time on an informal as-needed basis. Less than 10% of men used formal organizational policies, citing concerns that requests for visible accommodations would be denied. With effective informal arrangements, men can better balance work and family responsibilities, continue to perform at a high level of work, and escape being branded as less serious about one’s career. In some ways, we are finally realizing the promise of Pleck’s (1985) idea of “less rigid forms of flexibility.”

In my part of the symposium, I will consider these issues, drawing on the research about the work-family priorities and actions of men today, and on the research on work-family culture and informal, “less visible” forms of workplace flexibility. I will discuss the aspects of work-family research and practice that are most relevant for men, and also discuss how, looking forward, these changing priorities alter work-family considerations and solutions for all.

I’ll be back later in the week, and may include information I learned from the conference in some future posts. Until then, Hasta La Vista! (And now I bet you understand why we ALL prefer blog writing to academic writing)

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References

  • Allen, T. (2001). Family-supportive work environments: The role of organizational perceptions. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, 414-435.
  • Behson, S. (2002). Coping with Family to Work Conflict: The Role of Informal Work Accommodations to Family. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7, 324-341.
  • Behson, S. (2005). The relative contribution of formal and informal work-family support. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66, 487-500.
  • Duxbury, L. & Gover, L. (2011). Exploring the link between organizational culture and work-family conflict. In Ashkanasy N., Wilderom, C. & Peterson, M. (Eds.) The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate (2nd edition.) Sage: Los Angeles. pp. 271-290.
  • Harrington, B., Van Duesen, F. & Humberd, B. (2011). The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted. The Boston College Center for Work and Family.
  • Hill, E. (2005). Work-family facilitation and conflict, working fathers and mothers, work family stressor and support. Journal of Family Issues, 26, 793-819.
  • Levine, J. & Pittinsky, T. (1998). Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family. Mariner Press.
  • Mesmer-Magnus, J & Viswesvaran, C. (2006). How family-friendly work environments affect work/family conflict: A meta analytic examination. Journal of Labor research, 27, 555-574.
  • Pleck, J. (1985). Working Wives/Working Husbands. Sage: New York.

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