Dads at work: The problem when a Gen X leader manages a Gen Y dad

This week, Andy Murray’s statement about his impending fatherhood, whilst in the semis of the Australian Open, struck a chord with me:

‘For me, my child is more important to me, my wife is more important to me than a tennis match.’

Of course this is true for most of us – our families and our children are more important to us than work.  After all, we can always find another job….

However, when facilitating a dads’ workshop this week for a law firm, I was reminded once again just how difficult it is for dads in particular (working mums still have this problem, but I think it’s worse for dads) to leave work early for family-related time, and prioritise family over work.

We know that expectations of managers and leadership teams make a huge difference in how comfortable we feel about striving for a work/family balance, and I have realised that this is accentuated when Gen Y (also known as millennial dads) - who expect to play a large and active role in their child’s life - are managed by Gen X leaders.

Gen X managers are self-sufficient and independent workers, who have been managed by Baby Boomers.  The majority of the male managers will have had their children at a time when it was very typical for their wives to give up work and take care of both the family and the household, enabling these managers to focus all of their energies on work.

I hear time and again how these managers fully expect their younger working dads to do the same as they did – delegate child duties to ‘the other half at home.’  Consequently they will never have lived through the challenges facing our working dads today – striving to gain a balance so they can still progress at work but also see their children.

In 2010, cricketer James Anderson returned home from the Ashes tour in Australia to attend the birth of his second child.  At the time, Bob Willis, former England bowler said:

‘I don’t agree with the Mothercare buggy-rolling thinking that modern man has.  He should be on the cricket tour, that’s his job.’

Born in 1949, and therefore very much a Baby Boomer himself, Bob Willis’ attitude is still very much reflected in the corporate world today.

HR Review revealed this week:

A Cascade HR study of 1,000 bosses and senior level managers from companies across the UK found that, out of the four generations; Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z, millennials came out on top as the most demanding set of employees. Just under two-thirds of bosses said that workers of this generation required the most guidance and support from managers.

High expectations for support from working dads, coupled with an outdated mindset of what support actually looks like by managers, is making the problem worse.  With this mismatch of expectations, it’s no wonder that UK fathers still work longer than men without dependent children and remain more likely to work long hours (Modern Fatherhood, 2015), as the work/family balance battle continues.

The Modern Families Index (Working Families and Bright Horizons) revealed last week in their findings that:

More than one in five fathers now say they share care, with younger parents the most likely to report working flexibly and sharing family responsibilities.  Young fathers, in particular, have an appetite to be more involved with family life.  69% of fathers aged 16-35 work flexibly compared with 54% of fathers aged 36-45 and 52% of fathers aged 45+.

So, there is a generational clash in attitude at work, which is affecting the work/family balance and probably performance at work, of dads.  Even if you are lucky enough to be directly managed by an enlightened leader, there are plenty of Baby Boomers and traditional mindsets at the top of any organisation.

In about 10-20 years’ time, when we will all be managed by Gen Y’s/Millennials, this outdated attitude towards the role of the working father will hopefully be virtually erased.  But in the meantime, do we expect our working dads to struggle through?

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