Many workplaces are not open to men prioritizing family. Here are a few things we all can do to help slowly change our workplace cultures so that fathers can feel more secure in discussing, addressing and even accommodating family demands at work. If you have the security and courage to do so, we need you to be a role model. There's no better time than National Work and Family Month to start. Here's how.
When my coworkers come to my office, they see lots of pictures of me and my son. I hope this signals that it is safe for men to discuss family while at work.
In my previous writing, I've generally recommended that working dads keep relatively quiet about discussing family in the workplace, justifying requests for flexibility primarily 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.
So, if you have the security, flexibility, courage and inclination (I recognize some may have more ability to do this at work than others), here are two things we can do in our workplaces to make it easier for dads to discuss and address their work-family challenges.
1. Talk about your family and ask other working dads about theirs
2. Use workplace flexibility and be sure other working dads see you
Most employers are somewhat tolerant of moms discussing family while at work. Women tend to talk about their families more than men. Women face many workplace hurdles, but considering that family demands are a large part of women's proscribed gender role, women do generally have more leeway than men in terms of raising family issues at work.
Men tend not to discuss family issues as readily, especially in the workplace. You can start changing this at your workplace and among those you can influence. It is probably best to begin with subordinates and peers, and work your way up to discussing these matters with higher-ups. Here are some things we can do:
- Keep pictures of your kids/family not just in a small frame facing you on the desk, but in a prominent place at your workstation (an 8x10 on the wall behind you may be ideal)
- During "water cooler" chit-chat with other men, don't just talk about fantasy football; tell them what you did with your kids last weekend, or discuss their little league games (or whatever)
- Ask other men in your workplace about their non-work life, including their families. Encourage them to share their family activities- like what they did with the kids on their last vacation, etc.
- If you can do this at the beginning of meetings you run, even better
- If you are a supervisor and can generate these conversations with men who report to you, even even better better
Talking about family is one thing, but taking action is another. It requires courage, as well as a track record of high performance, respect of your coworkers/supervisors and some job security. 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.
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
Pushing for change requires courage, and some degree of respect and security at your workplace. You may encounter some short-term pushback. But, you might not. Sometimes by assuming the worst, we contribute to building our own barriers. 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.
Many dads struggle with work-family balance, but because they do not see other men talking about these issues, many feel like they struggle alone. We all struggle with work-family, and just knowing this fact helps.
We can all help to make it more normal for men in our workplaces to discuss family issues, and to bring some of our non-work lives into workplace discussions. I know it is not easy to stand out. But these two small steps can help lay 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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Scott Behson, Ph.D., is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad and an overall grateful guy. As a national expert in work and family issues, Scott was a featured speaker at the recent White House Summit on Working Families. Scott also founded and runs the popular blog Fathers, Work and Family, writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review Online, Huffington Post and Good Men Project, and has written for Time and the Wall Street Journal. Scott has appeared on MSNBC, CBS This Morning, NPR Fox News and Bloomberg Radio.