The changing face of the American working dad

More American fathers are assuming an increasingly active role in raising their children, but many employers haven't adequately responded to their changing needs.

This article was originally published by on Friday, June 17, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor, Fortune

Who's going to pick the kids up from soccer practice? Or how about when junior is feeling sick and needs to be collected from the nurse's office? While the answer to these questions would have been obvious years ago, it certainly isn't today. But have employers actually kept up with this shift?

Take the flexible work policies that many employers have developed over the last few decades, as the flood of women entering the workforce demanded a departure from the standard 9-to-5 schedule, in order to handle children's emergencies. It turns out that men are five times as likely to work flexibly on an informal basis, rather than adopting a manager-approved flexible work plan, according to a new study of fathers and work by Boston College's Center for Work and Family.

While in previous generations, it would have been silently assumed that men stake a larger portion of their identity to their careers than women, a recent study from WFD Consulting and WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress found that there are little, if any, differences between men and women on this front, similar to results from Brazil, China, Germany and the United Kingdom.

These trends are representative of a challenge that employers face when attempting to motivate their workers and help them meet family needs. And in a world where an employee's identity encompasses many diverse responsibilities, no single answer fits every person.

"Organizations tend to put an awful lot of stock around formal policies," says Brad Harrington, the Boston College center's executive director. "It's really the culture of the organization that's going to dictate whether the fathers are going to be comfortable using policies."

More than three-quarters of the fathers Harrington surveyed used some kind of flextime and many took advantage of telecommuting (57%) and compressed workweeks (27%) as well. But more than 80% of those who worked from home or shifted their work hours did it on an informal basis. A majority of the fathers who did not take advantage of the flexibility believed that doing so would be frowned upon.

Employers should recognize that an increasing number of fathers are caring directly for their children and want to do even more, but their path to that goal is likely to be different than mothers'. "We haven't really gotten a well-rounded understanding of what the father's needs are" in the workplace, Harrington says.

Read the rest of the article at Fortune's Web site.