Study says fathers involved at home are happier at work
Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. Jason Manekas is getting ready to leave his sunny ninth-floor office in the Seaport District to pick up his 5-year-old daughter, Perry. A framed photo from a father-daughter dance — Perry clutching a pink puppy purse, Manekas wearing a pink tie — sits on a shelf; Perry’s stick-figure drawings grace the inside of his door.
Manekas, a trial attorney, gathers up a few thick files to work on at home — after he has tucked his daughter into bed. No one bats an eye when he strides out of Bernkopf Goodman hours before quitting time for most of the lawyers. Manekas is on dad duty, which, according to a recent Northeastern University study, could make him happier at work.
Manekas can’t tell whether being a father has affected his career. He just knows he loves spending time with Perry.
“Even if it’s a bad day and I get to go home and hang out with my daughter, it makes the day better,” he said. “I don’t know if work’s better. I’m better.”
After many generations in which a father was expected to be more breadwinner than caregiver, men have become increasingly involved in their children’s lives — a result, in part, of more mothers working outside the home. But sharing caregiving and breadwinning duties appears to have different effects on men than it does on women.
Past research has shown that the more time women spend with their kids, the more stress they feel at work. But for men, increased interaction with their children has the opposite effect, according to the Northeastern study, recently published in the Academy of Management Perspectives. The fathers reported more job satisfaction, fewer thoughts of quitting, and less of a conflict balancing work and family.
In many ways, the study underscores the double standard that still lingers in the American workplace and contributes to the persistent wage gap between men and women. Many previous studies have found that when women have children, their bosses and colleagues often assume they will pull back from their work responsibilities, diminishing their opportunities to advance and increase earnings.
Women, in turn, feel more scrutinized at the office. Some women are driven to prove that they can do it all, studies show, but it’s more likely they will retreat and accept lesser roles.
Men and women also get very different reactions when child care intrudes on work. With mothers, it’s expected, but sometimes frowned upon, said Jamie Ladge, lead author of the Northeastern study: “It’s like, ‘There she goes again.’ ”
On the other hand, said James Mahaffey, cofounder of the Boston Dads Group, the fathers he knows are more likely to get a “Wow, good job, guy.”
Mixing family, productivity
By 5:30 p.m., after battling Interstate 93 traffic, Manekas arrives at his daughter’s after-school program in Winchester. They walk to the car, Perry’s pink and purple “Frozen” backpack, featuring the cartoony-cute faces of Disney characters Elsa and Anna, slung over the shoulder of Manekas’s black overcoat.
At home, Manekas fixes Perry a grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate milk — his tie and shoes off, the sleeves of his checked shirt rolled up — then puts a chicken in a pot to make avgolemono, a Greek egg and lemon soup, for his and his wife’s dinner later.
Manekas also packs Perry sandwiches for lunch and makes her breakfast. Her favorite morning meal? “Frozen pancakes,” she said.
Manekas, 44, grew up in Nashua, the older of two sons. His mother worked on and off in office jobs, and his father, a teacher who often got home earlier than his wife, was involved in child rearing, from cooking to coaching sports.
Manekas, a partner and 17-year veteran at his firm, said he feels no guilt when he leaves early or rearranges a meeting, because he always gets his work done. When Perry was born, he told the other partners at Bernkopf Goodman, which has 25 lawyers on staff, that he was going to take an active role in her life. “As opposed to asking for permission, I said, ‘Here’s what I’m doing,’ and they were fine with it,” he said.
Neil Markson, the firm’s managing partner, said Manekas is just as productive, and happy, as he’s ever been. “Jason’s very easy to get along with, so it would [be] tough for me to see all of a sudden a bigger spring in his step,” Markson said. “It’s totally seamless.”
Men typically don’t face the question of whether they can balance work and family responsibilities and therefore don’t experience the same threat to their work identities that women do, said Ladge, a Northeastern professor of management and organizational development. Men with children also don’t have to contend with the perception that their work is somehow not getting their full attention.
“It’s important for fathers to share this stigma because then the stigma goes away,” she said.
Employers are starting to recognize the needs of working fathers, said Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family
Encouraging men to get more involved in parenting allows women to focus more on their careers, he said. This is good not just for women but for the organizations they work for.
“If you’re a company that cares about women’s advancement,” Harrington said, “then you ought to be concerned about men’s involvement at home.”
An equal partner
Manekas’s wife, Jillian, an analyst, arrives home a few minutes after him. She said she doesn’t know how she would handle juggling a full-time career and a child if her husband didn’t pitch in. Along with cooking and grocery shopping, he goes to his fair share of play dates and birthday parties, too.
“I didn’t want to go into [parenting] unless I had someone who was going to be an equal partner,” Jillian said.
After Perry finishes her grilled cheese, it’s upstairs to help Dad fold her laundry, then into the tub before bedtime.
Manekas admits to a few failures as a father — “I used to braid hair, but I’m not good at it, so ponytail’s my thing,” he said. But at work he feels more driven, he says, because he wants to make sure his daughter is taken care of.
“Now that I have a daughter,” he said, “it sort of ratcheted it up a notch.”