A change in priorities

The media is filled with stories of moms struggling to balance work and family.

The media is filled with stories of moms struggling to balance work and family.

What about dad?

In this era of increased co-parenting, dads are more consumed by the search for an ever-elusive balance of work and family. Yet, as Father's Day approached and dads looked around their offices, factories and stores, there wasn't enough help.

There are changes. Work-life benefits are popping up at some American offices: a kid room, a handbook on building flexible work weeks, even a toy-train table.

"We realise it's really important to being competitive. More than that we want to have people not feel like work is a sterile environment completely separate from the rest of their lives," said Richard Law, chief executive of Allyis, which offers paid paternity leave.

But Allyis' dad-and-mom-friendly workplace appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Flexible work may be more available, but it is not always taken. Paid paternity leave is no more common today than 10 years ago, one study found.

That may create problems, because research shows dads are more involved in child rearing. Even though the split is not 50-50, more dads balance school drop-offs and sick-bed duty with evening business meetings and trips.

And both moms and dads worry their careers could suffer if they use those flexible hours, though men worry more, and both say it is "less socially acceptable" for a man to seek flexible work, according to work-flexibility firm Catalyst. "Men are very afraid that using flexibility will affect their career negatively," said Laura Sabattini, Catalyst's research director.

When Jude O'Reilley was job hunting in January, flexibility was at the top of his wish list. In fact, he ruled out companies with a reputation for poor work-family balance. With his first child due in March, O'Reilley would be in charge of the 4am nappy change, feeding the baby dinner and running the bath and story time.

He rejoined that world in February, when he took a job at Seattle-based Trusera, an online health information start-up.

Trusera is a place where everyone works long hours, but also where the chief executive may take off at 3pm for his son's sport, and send an e-mail to staff at 11pm that night.

"We may have to work long hours because of the problem we are trying to solve. But when we work those hours and how we work those hours is up to us," said O'Reilley, who typically logs 55 to 60 hours a week as head of marketing.

It is a balancing act because O'Reilley may want flexibility, but he chose a start-up, and all the demands that come with it.

"I think that the real change is among employers who used to think of flexibility for women only. That is just not true any more," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the New York-based Families and Work Institute. "There is a real understanding that fathers want to be more involved."

There are broader dad-centric changes. Over the past decade, men reported getting more time off to spend with their new children, and Galinsky says younger dads are more aggressively pushing for personal time.

But, too often dads and moms did not use those benefits, and there was still a long way to go, Galinsky said. In the future, she sees a greater reliance on telecommuting and flexi time that works for both employee and employer.

Experts also suggest that managers need to change their perspective and encourage workers by using the benefits themselves.

Maybe the biggest step is to stop thinking of work-life balance as an issue for moms, or dads, says Catalyst's Sabattini.

"As long as they are viewed as only a women's issue they will always be viewed as accommodations rather than business strategies," Sabattini said. - © New York Times partner publication