Sunday, June 15, 2008

On a sunny Friday afternoon, a tall man wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses skirted around a construction zone with his daughter as they headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch.

Brian Kelleher, a Seattle resident, stays busy working as a self-employed recruiter for engineers, but last week he closed down shop to bring his 11-year-old daughter to the nation’s capital for a leadership conference. He said he makes a habit of spending time with his three children - even when that means putting work on hold.

“I balance [work and family] by sacrificing my work for my kids,” he said. “I’ve sacrificed my career for my kids. How other guys do it, I don’t know.”

Hardworking fathers schedule business around family time a little more than they used to, and top executives are leading the way in setting flexible schedules, according to a new survey by human resources consulting firm Adecco USA.

“We’re seeing men or fathers that are running corporations leading the example in having work-life balance,” said Rich Thompson, head of training and development at Adecco. “I think it’s gone from something that’s just a topic to something that people are really taking advantage of now.”

The survey found that 81 percent of dads are at least somewhat likely to send work-related e-mails late at night. It’s a sign that dads are taking advantage of evolving technology, like e-mail and BlackBerrys, to work from home after the kids go to bed, Mr. Thompson said.

“Work isn’t just 9 to 5 anymore,” he said. Technology, he added, is allowing fathers to be more flexible in how they schedule their workday.

Mr. Thompson, a father of three, thinks the trend stems from a rising generation of executives who are trying to spend more time with their kids than an earlier generation of baby-boom fathers who consigned their kids to day care while they focused on careers.

“What we’re seeing now, with economic times not being good, the only constant is family,” Mr. Thompson said. “So they don’t want to leave their kids at home. They don’t want to miss Billy’s first softball game. For the first time, they want to have a strong work-life balance. They put family first.”

As younger executives fill more high-level positions, their focus on family is affecting the family life of lower-level workers, too.

“You view those people for their values, and if their values are people first and careers a very close second, then because those people are your leaders, you follow. Now, [you] don’t have to make up an excuse to leave.”

Mr. Thompson lets his own employees leave the office when they request time off to attend an important family event.

“I know at the end of the day they’re still going to get done what they told me they were going to do,” he said. “I think the idea that they’re working less is untrue. I think they’re just working different.”

Not everyone attributes the transition toward flexible work schedules to family-friendly executives.

Scott Coltrane, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Riverside, said the entrance of more women into the workplace has changed the way husbands and wives view their roles in the family.

“Men are doing twice as much housework as they did 20 years ago,” Mr. Coltrane said. “They’re doing three times as much child care.”

More turnover in jobs leads to more trade-off parenting, he added.

More than three out of five fathers said they still find managing family life more challenging than managing their work, the Adecco survey found. Seven in 10 mothers said the same.

Members of the military work long hours and many weekends. But Petty Officer Kenny Ulerio said he relishes the time he gets to spend with his pregnant wife and young son when he’s off-duty.

“For me, it’s pretty hard,” he said. “I work pretty crazy hours.” But he and his family planned to spend a relaxing Father’s Day together.

Mr. Thompson said the new workplace flexibility lets fathers attend important family events they once missed.

“Kids don’t come with a TiVo, so we can’t pause them,” he said. “But because we can’t pause them, then you have to be there.”

Mr. Coltrane welcomed the recent attention to family-friendly fathers.

“Men are a little less shy about embracing the role of fatherhood,” he said. “I think they get praised too much, because we had minimal expectations for so long, but I think it’s good. We ignored them because we thought they weren’t important, but now we’re finding out they are.”

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