Pioneering Fathers Needed: Dare to Be Visible in Using Work Flexibility

Many workplaces are not open to men prioritizing family while at work. To change this, we need visible role models- fathers who are both respected at work and take noticeable actions to balance family responsibilities. If you have the security and courage to do so, here’s some advice on how you can become that role model. (part 2 of a series)

I'm calling for dads to stand up for work-family balance, but not for Jerry MaGuire-level career suicide.
I’m calling for dads to stand up for work-family balance, but not for Jerry MaGuire-level career suicide.

Two weeks ago, I began a series of articles* about how we can “be the change we wish to see” and help make our workplaces more accepting of fathers’ work-family issues. We can do this by:

  • Talking about our families & asking other men about theirs (see part 1)

  • Making sure other men in our workplaces see us occasionally use work flexibility for family reasons

  • Taking paternity leave

  • Starting a Beer Fire! (a group of male coworkers to discuss life outside of work)

In the first installment, I wrote about how we can make coworkers feel more comfortable discussing their families while at work by taking the lead and starting these conversations. Today, I’d like to go one step further and discuss how we can use our actions to role-model work-family accommodations.

Coming out of the Dark

In my previous writing, I’ve generally recommended that we keep quiet about discussing family in the workplace, to negotiate for telework justifying it solely with a business case, and to balance work and family primarily through informal arrangements or “invisible” accommodations.

These may be good strategies for the individual, but do nothing to help others in the workplace, especially fellow dads who face many of the same pressures as you. If our generation of busy involved dads don’t start making change happen through our visible actions, company cultures will remain unchallenged. If no brave working fathers take visible steps to balance work and family, our fellow dads will continue to feel as if they have to struggle alone, with no one to support them.

One Small Step For a Dad…

Talking about family is one thing, but taking action is another. Taking action at your workplace requires courage, as well as a track record of high performance, respect of your coworkers/supervisors and some job security. If you have these, plus the flexibility, courage and inclination (I recognize some may have more ability to do this at work than others), here’s what we can do to make it easier for dads to address work-family demands at our workplaces.

The next time you have to leave work early, for instance to pick up your kids from school when your wife has to work late, don’t just mumble something or sneak out.

Next time,

1. Ask/tell your supervisor (who will likely say ok)

2. Then, as you leave, matter-of-factly tell your coworkers:

I have to leave a bit early today to pick up Junior from school. I’ll be on my cell if anyone needs me, and I’ll log in from home tonight to catch up on anything I miss”.

3. And then go.

4. And don’t feel guilty about it.

If your work remains great, eventually very few people will care that you sometimes have to accommodate work to family. And, more importantly, more men at your workplace will see your example and feel more secure in doing this themselves.

The point here is to make it more normal for men in your workplace to discuss and address family issues. I know it is not easy to stand out. But this small step lays the groundwork for building more supportive workplace cultures.

How do you feel about being more visible in handling your work-family demands? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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* Future entries in this series will discuss paternity leave and creating fathers’ discussion groups at work. In addition, upcoming “Sharing Experiences” articles will focus on men who have taken paternity leave and how they managed once back at the workplace. Stay tuned!

12 thoughts on “Pioneering Fathers Needed: Dare to Be Visible in Using Work Flexibility

  1. Absolutely agree with this Scott, although the guilt takes some getting over. As I write this I am chained to the desk, trying to complete a submission I know can wait a day or two. At home is a grizzly eight-week-old who won’t feed, won’t sleep and doesn’t want to be held. Understandably, my wife would like me home, and I want to be there.

    At the end of the day, we don’t baulk at a long lunch, a game of golf, a few lunch-time beers cutting into our work hours on a Friday afternoon, so our colleagues shouldn’t have any qualms about us taking off at short-notice to go help on the home front. They may see it as an investment into happiness.

    I look forward to your next post – I’ve been back at work for six weeks after taking a fortnight of paternity leave and (just quietly) wouldn’t mind being a stay-at-homer.

    • Hi Dan- Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      Good luck with the baby (things get easier and you will sleep again!), and you make a great point about other times people find it acceptable to do something other than work during work hours. Perhaps, as you say, this can be a n opening that makes us feel more comfortable in taking time for family and feel more supported.

      In the US, we don’t have mandated paternity leave. This is something I wish we would do here, too.

  2. Over time I’ve become confident in stating my needs to be a parent. When my daughter was quite small, if I needed to stay home because she was sick, I would try to say I would be working from home. I would then resent my daugther’s needs as I’m trying to get work done (most of which wouldn’t matter it was dealt with then or a day or two later) and resent work for taking me away from my daugther. Now, I am very intentional about saying “I’m not working” when I am supporting my wife or daughter. It was a difficult choice at first as I worried I would be percieved differently. Now, I choose to simply accept others perception of me – which haven’t changed, since I am still getting my work done with the same high quality and on time. A lot of the fear is self generated, and needs to be faced in order to move past it.

    • Hi Jim- Thank you for sharing this. I think you are right on. Over time, if your performance is good, in most workplaces, people will stop caring so much about working flexibly/taking time for family. I’m convinced we do some of this to ourselves in terms of fearing the unknown or feeling as if everything has to be done by us, right now!

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