Tor de Vries spent the first part of his career as an art director in New York, working more than 80 hours a week and pulling in six figures. Then he had his first child, and everything changed.
He wanted more flexibility, something not easy to come by in the corporate world, so he went to work at a nonprofit that didn’t mind if he needed to work from home or leave early to take his son to a doctor’s appointment. And when his wife, a doctor, got a job near Portland, Maine, the nonprofit allowed him to move there and telecommute full time.
But taking that job meant a 40 percent pay cut, and losing the prestige that comes with working for a high-flying digital agency in New York — a path taken by some of his grad school peers, whom de Vries occasionally sees quoted in magazines and speaking at conferences.
“Do I occasionally go, ‘Man, that could have been me’? Yeah, once in a while, but I get over it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have this great relationship with my kids if I hadn’t made that decision.”
As younger generations increasingly demand more work-life balance, the workplace has become more accepting of fathers’ family obligations. Think Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg taking two months of paternity leave, or Prince William taking time off from his job as an air ambulance pilot when his daughter was born.
And some of them are sacrificing money, and sometimes high-powered careers, in order to better tend to their family’s needs. Nearly half of 665 new parents surveyed for the Watertown-based child-care provider Bright Horizons said they had taken a lower-paying job at companies with more family-friendly benefits. Among men, the rate was even higher, at 59 percent. In addition, nearly 70 percent of new dads said that fatherhood would probably prompt them to change jobs.
Several workplace analysts questioned whether a majority of working fathers were willing to actually quit lucrative jobs for lower-paying ones with more family-related perks, in part because of the fact that only 150 fathers were included in the survey. But they said there’s no doubt that working dads are increasingly demanding more family-centered benefits.
“When making career decisions, fathers are putting more stock in ensuring that their child’s needs and family needs are first and foremost,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. He speaks from experience. The former Hewlett-Packard executive, who traveled extensively for work, took a 70 percent pay cut when he went into academia, a decision he made not long after his then-1 ½-year-old daughter refused to hug him when he returned from a long business trip. “No career is worth that,” he said.
As workers increasingly put their children first, many employers are trying to accommodate them. While only 13 percent of US workers at private companies have paid family leave, a number of major corporations have added or upped paid leave in recent years, a trend that men in particular appear to be benefiting from.
The number of men taking paternity leave has tripled over the past two decades, and in 2015, 70 percent of those leaves were paid, according to a new Ohio State University study. By comparison, the number of women taking family leave — while much higher than men overall — has remained the same over the past two decades, and in 2015, less than half of them were paid, a figure that has been increasing by only a quarter of a percentage point a year during that time.
Still, many companies don’t offer family-friendly benefits at all, and changing this will require employees to “vote with their feet” if requests for sane work hours aren’t met, Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin said.
It’s especially important that men do this. If they don’t, employers will continue to count on them to work long hours — which is often rewarded with raises and promotions and is a major factor in the gender wage gap, Goldin noted — and won’t be forced to adjust their policies.
“This is the brave new world of work and of family-friendly demands being placed on firms by men,” she said.
For his 2015 book, “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide,” Scott Behson talked to an accounting firm that found in addition to losing women in their early 30s from jobs that required long hours and extensive travel, they were losing men, too — a change the firm attributed in part to family duties.
‘Do I occasionally go, “Man, that could have been me?” Yeah, once in a while, but I get over it. I wouldn’t have this great relationship with my kids if I hadn’t made that decision.’
Even if fathers aren’t quitting, many of them are choosing to “plateau” their careers and not accept promotions that might take time away from their families, said Behson, a management professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
“They care very much about maintaining some level of career success, but they care more about being the involved dad that they want to be,” he said.
Striking this balance is something working mothers have long struggled with.
Morgan Kelly Burke went from working 50 hours a week at a venture capital firm to working part time, from home, for a toy rental startup. She’s thrilled to have more time with her daughter, now 2, and enjoys being the chief marketing officer for Wakefield-based Green Pinata Toy Share, despite a drastic cut in pay. But because it’s part time, she worries that if she goes back to corporate America, the job might hinder, not help, her career momentum.
“I have a self-inflicted insecurity that it won’t seem real enough because I’m not logging excessive hours in an office,” she said.
Kimberly Osborne quit her job as a home health worker specializing in hospice and Alzheimer’s care to become an independent contractor, with less pay and no health insurance benefits, for the networking group Boston Business Women. She makes less than she used to but can work from home and take care of her 3-year-old daughter, an arrangement that outweighs the financial benefits of the 9-to-5 grind, she said.
For one thing, her daughter no longer wakes up in the middle of the night and says, “Mama, don’t go.”
A few employers have started tapping into the labor force of parents who have put careers on hold — and are getting experienced professionals for a bargain. At JCSI Corporate Staffing in Grafton, half the recruiting firm’s 36 employees are part-time, by choice, most of them former stay-at-home moms, chief executive Jim Sullivan said.
These women — and, for a while, a former stay-at-home dad — want to work part-time, close to home, and don’t mind making less than they had in the past. Sullivan soon realized these workers — including former sales managers, software engineers, and project managers — were more efficient than the recent college grads he’d been hiring.
Kathleen Underhill, who works in sales at JCSI, used to make six figures in the financial services sector dealing with executives of Fortune 500 corporations. Now she works part-time, mostly from home, making around $30,000 a year — and has more time for her three children, ages 11, 15, and 18.
Underhill’s husband, a pilot, says that having someone with her level of expertise making sales calls for JCSI is like “swatting a fly with a Buick.” But Underhill likes that she’s less stressed and is still using some of her business skills.
“I’m not working the drive-through, so it’s way better than that,” she said. “You get to use your brain, but it doesn’t hang over my head when I’m making dinner at night.”Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.