Family-friendly workplaces facilitate engaged fathering, BYU research reveals

Venerable TV sitcom dads Ward Cleaver and Mike Brady likely never uttered the words “work-life balance” when they arrived home from the office — but it’s a defining concept for many 21st century fathers.

Perhaps more than ever before, the job that supports dads in their day-to-day involvement with their daughters and sons is the ideal job.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University examined the key role that the workplace plays in a father’s ability to be a nurturing and available presence in their children’s lives. For many Latter-day Saint fathers, improved workplace flexibility might help them better magnify their eternal roles as loving, gospel-driven caregivers.

Erin Holmes, the study’s lead researcher and a BYU family life professor, knows well the importance of work-life balance for today’s fathers. More and more, it is a key element in their professional careers.

“Men still think providing for their family is an important part of the work they do as a father, but they also want to be connected to their children and involved in their children’s lives,” she said.

Fathers in the United States report spending an average of eight hours a week on child care, according to recent research. That’s about three times what fathers were doing in 1965, said Holmes.

Those increases could potentially cause tension between a father wanting to be a good employee and economic provider  — while also remaining engaged in his childrens’ lives.

A recent BYU study suggests a family-friendly workplaces allows fathers to better engage with their children.
A recent BYU study suggests a family-friendly workplaces allows fathers to better engage with their children. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The recent BYU study examined the engagement and warmth levels that participants/fathers exhibited with their children and levels of flexibility found at their jobs. The study focused on over 1,000 employed fathers in the United States with children between the ages of 2 and 8.

“We focused on this younger age group because it is the time where a lot more parents report tension between wanting to have time for their children and trying to figure out how to establish themselves at work,” said Holmes.

She and her fellow BYU researchers expected to find that job flexibility and a family-friendly workplace would benefit fathers who already valued shared parenting and embraced more egalitarian gender roles.

“What we didn’t expect was how much job flexibility and a family-friendly workplace would benefit fathers who were actually more traditional in their gender roles and fathering attitudes,” said Holmes. “We think that is perhaps the most important finding: Dads who are more ‘traditional’ in their fatherhood role benefited most from a flexible workplace.”

To illustrate: A traditional father without a flexible workplace is likely to engage with his children a few times a month. “But a father with those same kinds of traditional beliefs — but with a flexible workplace — actually reported being engaged with his kids almost every day.”

So what makes for a flexible workplace?

“It’s defined by when and where you do your work,” said Holmes.

That could mean working from home. It might also mean being allowed to, say, perform work tasks early in the morning or after dark when children are still sleeping.

“We’re finding more and more that telecommuting and other workplace flexibility options are benefiting fathers — especially fathers with younger children,” she added.

Other 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 recent BYU research did not focus on how creating workplace flexibility might benefit employers.

“But other work-family literature suggests that employers are more likely to retain key talent at work when they offer flexibility and create a family-supportive workplace,” said Holmes. “Other literature also suggests that job satisfaction for employees increases when they have a family-supportive workplace and flexible options at work.

 “To me, those are the real benefits to the employer.”

Additional family research literature suggests association between workplace flexibility and productivity on the job.

For Latter-day Saint fathers who believe their role as a parent is an eternal calling, a flexible workplace can be a blessing for families and employers alike.

“Places that will create this kind of family friendly environment will support you in your efforts to become a warmer and more engaged father,” said Holmes.

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 doctoral degree from the University of Georgia, and Nathan Robbins, who is earning his doctorate from Cornell.