Colette Sexton, news correspondent at the Sunday Business Post, on why helping men to achieve a better work-life balance is good for everyone.
Societal pressure to be the breadwinner, the caring partner, the perfect father, and an alpha male all at once is taking its toll on men. A study from psychologists at the University of Georgia of over 250,000 people in the US found that most working fathers are plagued by stress but they do not want to discuss it as they fear they will appear less “masculine”.
A lot of people might argue that women are also plagued by stress to achieve a work-life balance. That is true.
It should be not a competition to see whether men or women have it worse in the rat race world we live in.
As mature adults, we should be able to acknowledge that both men and women have their own challenges, obstacles and stresses to overcome and unless we overcome them together, then they will never be resolved.
There has been a significant rise in the conflict between work and family responsibilities reported by men in recent years, according to “The New Male Mystique”, a 2011 report by the Families and Work Institute. This work-family conflict is especially high among fathers in dual-earner households. In 1977, 35 per cent of fathers in these dual-earner relationships reported work-family conflict. That jumped to 60 per cent in 2008. In comparison, 41 per cent of mothers in dual-earning couples reported this conflict in 1977, and there was a much smaller rise to 47 per cent in 2008.
On the one hand, this is good news. It shows that modern dads are pulling up their socks and realising they should be active parents in their children's lives. But if workplaces frown upon dads for leaving early to collect a sick child from creche or requesting flexitime then that does not just impact negatively on the father — it also impacts on their partner, children and wider society.
Small steps have been taken to counter this. The Irish government introduced two weeks paternity leave for fathers in 2016, and this will increase to four weeks from November. But even four weeks leave is pitiful. This merely cements the idea that a father is someone who might pitch in to help from time to time but really his job is as the breadwinner.
In an increasingly evolving society, with all kinds of couples and parental arrangements and families, this attitude is completely outdated. It just serves to compound the issues that prevent men from achieving a decent work-family balance. It also adds to the idea that men should not give up their jobs to care for children or other family members as that is a “women’s role”. If these attitudes continue to be pushed by both policy and society, then the task of caregiver will, for the majority, continue to fall to women.
Both men and women need to work together to resolve all issues of inequality — the faster we do that, the faster we will move towards a more equal society.