Employers are in a unique situation where they can either support father involvement in the family, or they can be a barrier.
For many Americans, work-life balance is often a topic of discussion when assessing a job. This balance has never been more of a concern than in the 21st century. Today, the average father wants to not only provide for his family but also be connected and involved in his children’s lives. In 2016, fathers reported spending an average of eight hours a week on childcare—about triple the time fathers provided in 1965, according to the Pew Research Center.
That growth in father-involved childcare led researchers at BYU to look at the impact a workplace can have on a father’s ability to be warm and engaged with his children. Recently, researchers found evidence that family-supportive workplaces and greater flexibility in when and where fathers were able to work played a big role in that connectivity.
“Researchers know that quality father involvement has a meaningful impact on kids’ social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as their overall sense of well-being,” said Erin Holmes, the lead researcher and a professor at BYU.
More than 1,000 employed U.S. fathers with children ages 2 to 8 participated in the study. Each participant answered questions about engagement—how often they engaged in different activities with their child such as playing, telling stories, etc.—as well as questions about warmth, indicated by actions such as praising, hugging, kissing and using affectionate nicknames with their children.
“Surprisingly, we found that dads who are more traditional in their fatherhood role benefit the most from a flexible workplace—traditional fathers without a flexible workplace were only engaged with their kids a few times a month, while fathers with the same traditional beliefs who had a flexible workplace reported engagement with their kids almost every day,” Holmes said. “Having a family supportive workplace also helped fathers be warmer toward their young children, with the strongest effect on the most traditional fathers.”
The researchers suggest that employers, supervisors and even coworkers have the unique opportunity to help fathers be more engaged with their young children. These support systems can create workplace environments that will help the more traditional father feel like he can and wants to be involved in his children’s lives.
“If employers can produce the kind of environment that tells employees they care about the whole person—not just work productivity, but also the quality of the employee’s personal and family life—I think they're going to get more from their employees. People are going to have better job satisfaction, and they're going to want to work hard for their employers to demonstrate their gratitude.”
Suggestions on how workplaces can be more accommodating include being sympathetic to the effects that work demands have on family life, helping employees feel comfortable to bring up personal or family issues with their supervisor or being flexible when situations arise with family members that would require employees to adjust their work schedules.
The research from this study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Two of co-authors include former BYU students Clare Thomas, who is earning her PhD from the University of Georgia and Nathan Robbins, who is earning his PhD from Cornell.