On most workdays, a dad somewhere is bolting from his office, yanking off his necktie and slipping into a coach's shirt just in time to...
MIAMI — On most workdays, a dad somewhere is bolting from his office, yanking off his necktie and slipping into a coach’s shirt just in time to deliver instructions to his child’s soccer or baseball team.
Juggling roles as a business executive, father and coach is all in a day’s work for men of Generation X. These dads with new priorities represent a shift from prior generations in their level of involvement with their kids. That involvement reflects in the workplace: They are more likely to sacrifice pay, modify work travel and refuse relocation for family reasons.
Now some employers are reaching out to help men with balance, considering them the silent stakeholder in the work/life debate. But employers who try often are baffled by the results: The men are shunning benefits offered to them or reluctant to talk openly about work-family conflict, often out of fear of being perceived as weak in their commitment to work.
“Men still feel awkward about taking paternity leave or asking for flexible work arrangements,” Maria Ferris, director of workforce diversity programs at IBM, said at a recent conference sponsored by the Alliance for Work-Life Progress. The computer giant offers two weeks of paid time off to new fathers, but “men are not using it as much as we would like.”
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At the same time, fathers of Generation X — the 60 million Americans between ages 25 and 40 — spend at least an hour a day more involved in their child’s lives than the prior generation.
Jason Murray, a shareholder at the Miami law firm Carlton Fields, says he changed his work habits since becoming a father 13 months ago. Murray says he makes an effort to be highly productive at his job as a franchise attorney so he can leave in time to have dinner, shed his suit and become a playmate to his son, Jason.
At a time when American employees are working harder, Gen X dads refuse to miss out on family activities. They are discovering that this juggling act is hard work.
“Spending time with my family is important,” Murray said.
Murray says he doesn’t really talk at work about this change in priorities or ask for resources to help with the juggling act. Men just don’t do that, he says.
“I think men are afraid,” Murray says. ” I’ve never heard a male say he needed more time off to spend time with family. I hear women say it all the time and make job decisions because of that. Men still are typically the primary breadwinner and are expected to bring in the bulk of income.”
When IBM conducted a global survey of 60,000 employees, the company learned that its male and female workers struggle equally with work-life balance. Among other offerings, IBM launched a Men’s Diversity Network Group to mull over issues that would help male workers become more effective in the workplace. In the groups, men discussed work issues but veered away from talk about work-life balance.
And it’s still customary in most workplaces for women to ask for, and receive, flexible schedules. Yet studies on the changing workplace show that men today are more willing to give up additional pay to spend time with family.
Murray thinks men’s willingness might depend on the stage of their careers.
“I would imagine that men are caught between two issues,” Murray said. “The rising cost of everything, houses, child care, private school. They need more money to provide for their families but they are caught trying to weigh the balance.”
In today’s dual-earner households, fathers routinely get called on to pick up a sick child from school or shuttle a kid to baseball practice. But Gen X dads say they fear the perception that they are less committed to their jobs.
Todd Greck, a South Florida radio-advertising sales executive, considers himself an involved dad. He says his co-workers are involved fathers, too. But if they need time off for a child-care obligation, Greck says they would not “come clean.”
“If someone wanted to go at 4 p.m. and meet clients for beers, it would be OK,” Greck explains.
Not so if they want to see their kid in a school play, he says. He says the Gen X dads at his workplace would give other excuses.
“They would say they have an appointment and sneak over, otherwise the perception would be that they are loafing.”