"We often forget that men have been struggling with work/family balance for a longer time than women, just because men have been in the workforce for a longer time," says Macky, "But it wasn't until we got moms in the workforce that companies started focusing on a work/life balance, and what they did was to focus solely on the mother.
"Research has shown us that fathers feel left out of this. They believe that these programs are really just for moms, not for them, and so they are intimidated or not encouraged to participate in these types of programs. And that's a shame, because one of the biggest problems facing companies today is attracting and retaining good workers. What we are beginning to see is that if men don't feel that they can comfortably take advantage of the same work/life programs as female employees, they may look for a company that allows them to do so."
See the following articles for more information:
- Top 3 Ways You Can Help Your Employees Find Work-Life Balance
- Helping Young Professionals Find Work-Life Balance
Macky notes that it can be the little things that make men feel that they shouldn't use these family-friendly benefits. "Companies send subtle messages that they may not mean to send. For example, they may develop flyers or pamphlets, and usually the pictures in them are just of women and children. Or the wording may talk about women or mothers, but not men and fathers. What fathers are saying is that we don't want to take anything away from women and programs that help them as parents, but men also want to be involved in these activities."
Moreover, managers - male and female - may not encourage men to take advantage of these benefits. Managers may also feel that the programs are really just for female employees. On the other hand, notes Macky, some male managers may feel that since they never had such benefits, why should male employees get them now?
"We suggest that companies encourage managers to take advantage of some of these programs themselves. Often, they will find that it is such a positive experience for them - both at home and in the workplace - that they will then encourage their employees to try them."
Father-Friendly - Not the Same
Macky suggests the following six ideas for making your workplace more open to the needs of fathers - and no, it isn't just letting fathers have the same programs as women:
- Yes, offer paternity leave. That's a great start, and legally most companies have to allow FMLA leave, but Macky says that too often, companies think that this is all the men need or want. Father-friendly means more than just paternity leave.
- Make sure your work/life program is open to all parents, and that management not only accepts, but encourages, fathers to participate. The best way to do this, notes Macky, is by having male managers and supervisors use the program themselves and publicizing this to employees.
- Promote awareness that men won't suffer negative consequences for taking advantage of work/life programs.
- Have your work/life focus group composed of men and women. Says Macky, "If you look at those people in most companies who are the ones developing the work/life programs in organizations, it is usually women. That sends a message that the program is not for men." In fact, suggests Macky, the committee should be made up of the same ratio of men and women as that of the total population in the company, even if that means having more men than women on the committee.
- Managers should keep a lookout for male employees who may be in need of one or more of the work/life programs the company offers. Sometimes the first step is having "the boss" suggest to the employee that it would be a good opportunity to use one of the benefits.
- Send out special notices to men to tell them more about each of the programs available. In addition, ask specifically for their feedback on how well the programs work and what other ideas they may have.
A Different Viewpoint
One reason that it is important for men to be on the committee is so they can offer new, creative approaches that women may not have thought of. In addition, Macky notes, some of the benefits being offered as family-friendly are not ones that interest men very much. One example he offers is that women often enjoy being able to take a couple of hours off work to listen to a professional discussing some topic of family life, such as discipline or parenting skills. Men, he says, would usually prefer to just have those two hours off to do something with their children, such as going to a ballgame.
Telecommuting is another area that Macky says may work better for women than it does for men. "Men tend to think very linearly, and that can be a problem when they are trying to work at home with children around them. Men tend to concentrate on one thing at a time, whereas women may be more likely to enjoy working at home and can better tolerate having their kids pulling at them asking for help."
One benefit that Macky says can be helpful to men is to offer productivity-based, rather than time-based, schedules. Instead of expecting employees to be on the job a set number of hours, productivity-based schedules are more interested in getting the job done. "Basically," explains Macky, "you tell employees, 'Here is your assignment, and this is when it is due.' So, if they are able to finish it in four days, instead of the specified five, they can take that extra day off."
Family-Friendly, Not Sex-Specific
Macky is quick to note that these are generalities, not set designations for men and women. Because the different sexes may have different needs, companies should offer a variety of options that can satisfy both men and women in their quest to be good parents and good workers. "Some women will be crazy about productivity-based schedules, while some men really want to attend family-life issue classes. Each person should have the opportunity to choose whichever benefits work best for him or her, and benefits shouldn't be sex-specific."
Nor is the push for father-friendly benefits any threat to those programs already in place for women. In fact, Macky sees the new effort of fathers to become more involved in their children's lives as a great opportunity for women. Not only are women not expected to be the ones who always have to take time off or change their schedules to take care of their children, but it also gives more credence to women's rights to use family-friendly policies, too. No longer is it just something special that the company feels it has to do for its female employees; family-friendly is every employee's right.
- See Four Simple Strategies for Retaining Your Best Employees for more information.