Modern Working Fathers in an Old-Fashioned World

Working fathers

It's often said that the U.S. and the U.K. are two countries separated by a common language. Turns out they're also united by a common problem: working fathers trying to gain acceptance as family caregivers. Dads on both sides of the pond, particularly Millennial working fathers, are eager to make their mark both as parents and employees, and they're speaking loudly about their desires to be fully present in their children's lives. In fact, growing numbers of dual-earner couples are altering the traditional model of family life, with roughly half of couples with young children in both countries having two parents in the workforce. But Bright Horizons' Modern Family Index shows societal structures are failing to keep up.

Modern Working Fathers Old-Fashioned World

Surveys of thousands of employees in the U.S. and the U.K. show that for men in both countries, dad as caregiver remains a tough sell. "Society may have professed enlightenment back in the 1960s," says Bright Horizons CHRO Dan Henry, "but we're still pretty safely pigeonholed in our stereotypical roles." A big part may well be management's failures to recognize modern-day shifting priorities. Dan says he sees more and more dads who want to leave a home legacy as much as or more than a work legacy. But not all corporate leaders are seeing the signs, with many seemingly stuck in a traditional world. In fact, managers in the U.S. Modern Family Index put careers at the top of dad's list of concerns, but dads themselves told us that in reality, career issues came in second to worries about work/life balance. And those kinds of disconnects are fueling outdated policies regarding things like time off. In the U.K., more than half of both working fathers and mothers believe it's harder for dads than moms to take time off to care for children. And those beliefs are likely the source of dishonesty in the ranks:

  • Roughly a third of both U.S. and U.K. dads have faked being sick to care for families
  • A quarter of U.S. dads and a third of U.K dads have lied to employers about family responsibilities
  • A third of dads in both countries are afraid to be upfront about family responsibilities

Around the World, Success is an X + XY Equation

Worse, dad's inability to fully participate is weighing on mom, too. With 67% of dads in the U.K feeling they need to put in extra hours to get the job done, it's left to working moms to pick up the slack, with nearly twice as many moms as dads segueing directly from their workday into household chores. The result: two nations of parents quietly burning out. Clearly, the Modern Family Index shows that changing roles are a global challenge. And the need for action is becoming more urgent as valuable Millennials, today's largest employee demographic, begin to make career choices based on their firm desire and ability to balance work and life. Communication, flexible work, and tangible help in the form of child care will be key. For employers on both continents, the message is clear. No matter how you spell it (organization or organisation), tomorrow's successful companies will be those that recognize employee value based on individual contributions...and not the presence of an X or Y.
Dad dropping his infant son off at employer-sponsored child care

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.