Fathers looking for more flexibility at work
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 31, 2004 at 11:30 p.m.
NEW YORK - When John Beatrice was a boy, his father quit his job with a big accounting firm and started his own business so he'd have more time with his family. Years later, Beatrice found himself in a similar situation, but with an important difference: A flexible work arrangement at Ernst & Young has allowed him to keep his job without sacrificing time with his kids.
``I remember listening to my father's calculator going between midnight and 4 in the morning, just so he could be there for us during the day," said Beatrice, 42. "I played hockey, and he never missed a game when I was growing up. I knew when I was having kids, I wanted to do the same.''
Beatrice, a partner in his firm's audit practice, now spends part of his mornings and afternoons coaching a high school hockey team. He's one of a growing number of men taking advantage of such arrangements, defying the traditional belief that dads who put their families first can't come out ahead at work.
Long considered tools for women, flexible scheduling, job sharing, reduced hours and telecommuting options are becoming increasingly necessary for men. With many families relying on both partners to produce incomes and contribute at home, there are signs that both sexes are looking for innovative ways to achieve a balance between work and life.
And anecdotally, there's evidence that companies that promote such policies win loyalty from their workers.
Brian Abeyta, 37, an executive in charge of project management at medical insurer AFLAC Inc., has an informal arrangement that allows him to spend more time with his kids, ages 3 and 6. He also took several weeks off recently to care for his mother before her death.
Abeyta left a competitive job with a telecommunications company in Atlanta to work for AFLAC in Columbus, Ga., in part because he found it difficult at his old job to carve time away for anything but work after his first child was born.
``I really enjoyed my previous job, but the thought of being able to move to a place that was a little bit smaller, and work for a company that endorsed family values and work-life balance . . . was very appealing,'' Abeyta said. ``I think, by letting me work flexibly, they wind up getting a couple hours more out of me than they might otherwise. But if they let me coach my son's T-ball team, I'm more than happy to give that time back, for them giving me that privilege.''
A recent survey of male and female executives by Catalyst, an advocacy group for working women, found that while flexibility is often seen as a women's issue, both sexes expressed a desire for a variety of formal and informal arrangements to help them balance their lives. Of those surveyed, 51 percent of women and 43 percent of men found difficulty achieving such a balance.
There's a stigma for those who take time off for personal reasons, however. Just 15 percent of women and 20 percent of men said they thought they could use a flexible work arrangement without jeopardizing their career advancement. That negativity might diminish if men start taking advantage of flextime policies in greater numbers.
``As men become more sensitive and are expected to be greater and greater partners at home, and want to be, will there become the equivalent of a `daddy track?' " asked Nancy Halpern, senior vice president of the Strickland Group, an executive coaching firm. ``And what's the pressure on companies to change, to retain talent for the next generation?''
At this point, even taking time off for the birth of a child is seen as potentially career-damaging. Dads who take paternity leave, or other time away from work for child care issues, often work it out quietly, out of concern that they'll be seen as less competitive than the guy at the next desk or in the next office.
It's a valid concern. A Wake Forest University business professor found that men who take time off for family are generally viewed more negatively than women who do the same. In the study, 242 undergraduate students were given mock personnel files with resumes, job descriptions, performance evaluations and forms requesting time off under the Family Medical Leave Act. Male employees who took leave to care for a newborn or ailing parent were generally rated less favorably, said Julie Holiday Wayne, adjunct assistant professor of business. Male evaluators were toughest on male employees.
A closer look at Ernst & Young's flextime records provides a snapshot of mens' growing interest. Of 23,000 workers in the United States, 2,400 have taken advantage of formal flextime options that allow them to work from home, work reduced schedules or compressed weeks, including 55 partners and directors. As of June, 23 percent of the total were men, up from 17 percent in October 2003, and 13 percent in October 2002.
It's harder to track the number of full-timers working flexibly, like Beatrice, but there's evidence that less formal arrangements are gaining acceptance, as well.
In his early years with the firm, Beatrice put in close to 1,000 hours of overtime each year. ``It was crazy,'' he recalls. But he felt the culture of the firm starting to change, and when the hockey coaching job became available at his local high school in 1992, he took a chance and asked his boss if his schedule could be adapted so he could take it. His boss said he should go for it. And, with his oldest son entering the eighth grade, Beatrice is involved with his teams as well.
Over the years, he's dealt with some resentment from colleagues - particularly those who still see working hundreds of hours of overtime as a badge of honor. But he feels he's playing an important role by showing it is possible to do something you love while still being successful at work.
``I love my job. But one of the reasons I love it is because I get to do these other things as well,'' Beatrice said ``If I just did this, I'd be burnt out by now. This is my 19th year here, and this is one of the reasons I still like what I do.''
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