PROVO — The role of fatherhood is changing in America, where dads are expected to both provide for the family and serve as equal partners with mothers in raising children.
Many dads want that added partnership, too.
Fathers are spending, on average, three times more time with children than they did 50 years ago, according to the Pew Research Center, and more see parenting as central to their identity than before.
Researchers at Brigham Young University found evidence that family-supportive workplaces and greater flexibility in when and where fathers were able to work played a big role in their connections with their children.
“We expected that having access to job flexibility and a family-friendly workplace would support fathers who valued shared parenting, and held more egalitarian gender roles,” said Erin Kramer Holmes, an associate professor in BYU’s School of Family Life who led the study. “We didn’t expect how much job flexibility and family-friendly workplaces would benefit fathers who were more traditional in their gender role and fathering attitudes.”
Traditional fathers without a flexible workplace reported only being engaged with their children a few times a month, while fathers with the same traditional beliefs who had a flexible workplace reported higher engagement — almost every day, in some cases, the study showed.
Previous research pointed out that involved fathers say that becoming fathers has improved their lives. Positive father involvement has also been associated with infant attachment security, toddlers’ ability to regulate negative affect, reduced behavior problems from infancy to middle childhood, and improved school achievements among teens.
The study was co-authored by former BYU students Clare Thomas and Nathan Robbins, now of the University of Georgia and Cornell, respectively; and professor Richard J. Petts of Ball State. It suggests that a workplace that creates an environment that values family life and the whole person — not just productivity and end results — could get more from its employees.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Family Psychology in May, examined more than 1,000 employed U.S. fathers with children between the ages of 2 and 8. Specifically, it asked the question, “Do workplace characteristics moderate the effects of attitudes on father warmth and engagement?”
Each participant answered questions about engagement — being involved with their children in playing, storytelling, etc. — and warmth, indicated by positive affirmations like praising, kissing, hugging and using affectionate nicknames with their children.
Fathers across the wide-spectrum of gender role and fathering attitudes reported that a workplace that allows for more time with children led to better warmth and engagement in fatherhood, Holmes said. Such workplaces included supervisors who accommodate employees’ family or personal lives; supervisors who are comfortable addressing family issues with their employees; co-workers who help them manage their work and family demands; and job flexibility, including when and where they work.
It’s a finding that defies expectations of work-life balance; fathers want to be involved in the home, just like mothers, and many of the practices that allow working women to maintain that balance also positively influence fathers.
“Job flexibility was initially developed by employers to accommodate working mothers,” Holmes said. “With this study we establish that these policies benefit working fathers, too.”
With more employers turning to work-from-home strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the study suggests that improving on home and family relations in the workplace could have a positive impact on most men, particularly fathers.
“I think it will be really interesting to see how the pandemic impacts the way employers and employees think about flexibility,” Holmes said. “Perhaps it will help people re-consider other features of the workplace that help it to be more family-friendly.”