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Spending time with kids may make dads better workers

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Spending more time with kids may make fathers better workers, a new paper from local researchers suggests. Specifically, dads who are more involved in childrearing are happier at work, experience less work-family conflict, and are less likely to think about quitting their jobs.

While the more involved dads studied tended to see their careers as less important to their overall identity, this was offset by support from management. The findings suggest that support for working dads (as, of course, for working moms) can benefit companies, and that managers can help employees feel connected to their work while being involved parents.

Researchers at Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Boston College conducted online surveys of nearly 1,000 working fathers and in-depth interviews with 31 relatively new working dads, all in professional or managerial positions. Along with finding a link between job satisfaction and time spent with their children — which researchers attribute to greater satisfaction with work-life balance — they uncovered a deep tension between traditional and nontraditional views of fatherhood.

For example, while the majority of newer fathers expressed a desire for better work-life balance, "in almost the same breath, they described the need to work harder and take their jobs more seriously so that they could provide for their families," the researchers wrote. (Their findings appeared in the Academy of Management Perspectives.)

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This ambivalence seemed to be reflected in dads' behavior at work. Even when men had access to flexible work arrangements, for instance, they tended to leave in a "stealth fashion" to tend to childcare responsibilities. (Women, by contrast, tend to take advantage of formal programs when offered.)

Yet men also enjoyed social connection and support from colleagues after becoming fathers. They were often praised by co-workers for tending to childcare responsibilities in a way that women typically are not, notes lead author Jamie Ladge, associate professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University's D'Amore-McKim School of Business.

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"Men get high-fives when they leave early — people say, 'Oh, he's such a good dad,' " Ladge says. "With mothers, that's expected, or even looked down upon — co-workers may think, 'She's leaving early again to pick up her kids.' "

Other studies indeed paint a different picture for working moms. Women who devote more time to childcare experience more conflict at work, research has shown, which may result in part from the stigma still associated with being a working mother, Ladge says.

Paternity leave laws like the one signed in January by former governor Deval Patrick seem to signal a shift. More visible and involved fathering may help to lessen the stigma traditionally attached to men's involvement, the authors note. It can also help women advance in their careers.

In the meantime, companies can help by encouraging managers to be more supportive and open to more flexible arrangements, Ladge says.

"Managers should recognize that anyone — not necessarily a parent — might need flexibility," she says.


Ami Albernaz can be reached at ami.albernaz@gmail.com.