Dads want working hours to be their flexible friends

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Many current work-life balance policies don’t suit dads, who would rather have workplace flexibility, according to new research.

In fact, being a father has little effect on men’s working patterns, although they do cut back their working hours for a short time after a new child is born, according to Economic and Social Research Council funded research at the University of Bristol.

The findings suggest that current policies to encourage work-life balance don’t take account of how fathers want to adapt their routines to fit in with family life. “It seems that fathers don’t want to work fewer hours,” says sociologist Esther Dermott.

“What professional men value most about their jobs is their ability to control their working hours so that they can leave early to go to school functions or parents’ meetings – and this flexibility was also what other men most wanted.”

The Bristol research was based on statistical analysis of two existing quantitative datasets. Further findings suggest that the focus on fatherhood as an influence of men’s employment has been overplayed; fathers do not have shorter working hours than non-fathers, nor do they see this as a problem.

“Fatherhood is not a good predictor of the number of hours men work once other variables are taken into account,” says Dr Dermott. “Hours of work are significantly related to age, form of economic activity, occupation, earnings and partner’s working-time.”

Data analysis showed that around a quarter of men wanted to work fewer hours: less than one per cent wanted to increase their hours and the remainder wished to maintain the status quo. These preferences did not change when the men became fathers. They did not want to work shorter – or longer – hours.

The research has implications for future measures to support better work-life balance among parents. It suggests that recent policies may simply not be what fathers want.

Promoting employee-controlled forms of flexibility and offering pay-related paternity leave may prove more popular, the report says.

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