It’s not hard to find written opinions about millennials, their work habits, and how to manage them.
It’s also relatively easy to dig up information on working mothers and the challenges they face as they try to “have it all.”
But search for information on millennials who are fathers and their unique work-life balance struggles, and you’re unlikely to come up with solid leads.
Fortunately, the Boston College Center for Work & Family has you covered.
The Boston College organization, a 1MFWF supporter, has conducted extensive research on working fathers. The Center recognized that this was an under-researched area within the work-life field, so it has completed seven reports on “The New Dad” over the last seven years to fill the void.
In their most recent report on the topic, “The New Millennial Dad: Understanding the Paradox of Today’s Fathers” (June 2016), the Center’s researchers add more to their exploration of “issues including the transition to fatherhood, the experiences of at-home dads, shared caregiving, and paternity leave.”
The newest report is based on a survey of people aged 22-35 who had at least two years of professional work experience and were employed at one of five global corporations. It draws primarily from the responses of 33 percent of the study subjects (327 participants) who were parents, and mostly the 151 fathers. But for comparisons, the responses of all 1,100 participants were used.
The resulting study is a broad-based and fascinating look at fathers in the millennial age group—defined as 18-36—and what makes them tick.
For example, 74 percent of fathers in the study said they wanted more time with their children than they have now, but they also want work roles with greater responsibility. This “would seem to indicate that men have joined the struggle to ‘have it all’—greater career success, more active family involvement, and more time to pursue passions and priorities beyond work and family,” the report said.
Such statistics add to the overwhelming evidence that a desire for better work-life balance isn’t just a women’s issue. And if employers want to help all of their workers build better balance, offering flexibility is a good place to start.
A focus on flex could also help millennial fathers who are facing the “paradox” noted in the report’s title, “namely the desire to be an equal parent, which is espoused by 67 percent of the millennial dads in the study,” the report said. “This figure is in contrast to the 30 percent who report that this is what actually happens in their homes.”
It’s important to understand this paradox, as the fathers in the study reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction with their workplaces and career achievements than single males. They were also more likely to say they planned to stay with their employers.
Thus, helping such millennial fathers find balance could have a direct impact on their productivity and retention, which translates to a company’s bottom line.
Further evidence that fathers want such balance was shown when they were asked to rate different criteria for selecting an employer. While career growth opportunities and benefits took the first and second spots in those rankings for dads, work-life balance was third, at 74 percent. (By comparison, balance was first for mothers, at 86 percent.)
Likewise, when fathers were asked what reasons would most likely cause them to leave their present employers, “time with family” and “work-life balance” ranked fourth and fifth, after “to make more money,” “advancement,” and “growth opportunities.”
“While in the past, being a ‘good father’ may have been more equated with being a good financial provider, supporting the family financially is no longer considered the ideal,” the Boston College report said. “Today, most men define being a good father more in terms of both active involvement with their children and meeting their family’s financial needs.
“As a result, it appears that many of today’s fathers are in the throes of learning how to combine work and family more proactively and effectively. … It seems that as millennial fathers increasingly experience the challenge of integrating their work and family lives, they experience greater work-family conflict.”
The report pays special attention to these “conflicted” fathers who feel they should provide as much caregiving at home as their spouses, but who don’t currently fulfill that role. In many ways, those fathers were shown to be less satisfied with their jobs than other millennial dads, felt less respected, and “found it more difficult to combine their personal lives with work,” the report said.
“Feeling a dilemma regarding their contribution to caregiving seems to reduce millennial fathers’ satisfaction levels in the workplace. In addition, the group of conflicted fathers seem to be more sensitive toward the cues embedded in the organizational culture which stress long work hours and working at home and on personal time.”
Again, businesses have an opportunity to help ease those frustrations. By taking steps to improve work-life balance and offering more flexibility to fathers who want to be actively involved in caregiving, they could greatly reduce the conflict these men face.
It appears that some companies are doing just that. When comparing responses of the millennial dads studied in 2015 to another group of fathers who were asked similar questions in 2011, progress is evident.
“Fathers in the 2015 sample experienced their work cultures more positively and as less punishing than dads in the same age cohort from 2011,” the report said. “For example, dads from the 2011 research were twice as likely to report that attending to personal needs was frowned upon, and while 28 percent of the 2015 fathers believed being viewed favorably at work required putting one’s job before one’s family, over 40 percent of 2011 dads reported this result.
“The 2015 dads perceived their work environments as more favorable to combining their work and family lives. As men have become increasingly vocal about their desire to be involved fathers, perhaps it has paved the way for other men in the workplace to do the same.”
Those positive results give hope that today’s businesses can build cultures of flexibility that will help men be loyal and productive workers, as well as happy and involved fathers. That’s definitely a goal worth pursuing.
Have you or your spouse experienced the kind of conflict mentioned in the Boston College study? How did you work through it? Did your employer offer any help? Please share your ideas in the comments section.
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