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March 10, 2015

Researchers offer fatherly advice to companies

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  • Lowell
Business prof studies evolving identity of working dads.

As a working mom herself, Asst. Prof. of Management Beth Humberd knows a thing or two about balancing a family with a career.

And while researchers have spent decades examining how this balancing act impacts working mothers, only recently have they begun to examine the effects on the other half of the parental equation: working fathers.

So when a new study co-authored by Humberd called “Updating the Organization Man: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace” was published in February’s Academy of Management Perspectives, people — and companies — took notice.

“In the last five years or so, researchers in this area have realized that we don’t talk enough about the men,” says Humberd, who joined the Manning School of Business faculty last fall after earning her Ph.D. in Organizational Studies from Boston College. “There are more dual-career couples, so men have to be more involved as fathers. There are expectations that men will do more.”

Those expectations were confirmed by the study, which surveyed 1,000 working fathers. The study found that the more time fathers spend with their children, “the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the less likely they want to leave their organizations.” They also experience “less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment.”

“I think we were optimistic that maybe we would see some of these positive benefits for men being more involved at home, but I think it was a little surprising that we found so many,” says Humberd, who co-authored the 55-page study with Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, and Northeastern University Professors Jamie Ladge and Marla Baskerville Watkins.

Getting with the times

The study’s name refers to William Whyte’s 1956 bestselling book, “The Organization Man,” which suggested that men were expected “take the vow of organizational life” and put work before family. While times have changed and many of today’s working dads say they want to be more involved, Humberd says the interviews revealed something deeper.

“A lot of men talked about desiring to be an updated organization man,” she says, “but when they recognized the constraints of their work and recognized that a lot more falls on their spouse, they realized maybe they’re not living up to that as much as they would like to.”

The study concludes that organizations should stop holding working fathers to “outdated gender norms and expectations” and not only provide, but encourage, paternity leave and other flex-time policies.

“We found not many men are taking advantage of paternity leave because it’s in the formal policy but informally looked down upon,” says Humberd, who notes that some men reported taking just one or two days off for the birth of a child. “So I think it’s more about the organization walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”

Those organizations that do adapt will benefit by having happier and more loyal employees, according to the study. That’s the takeaway from the research that’s grabbed headlines in TIME, Fortune and Forbes magazines, as well as the Wall Street Journal and PBS.

“It’s starting a conversation, which is the best we can hope for,” says Humberd, who adds that the White House recently hosted a summit on working families which led to President Obama proposing more than $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family leave programs.

Humberd, who graduated from Babson College in 2003 with a degree in Business Administration, began her career in the financial world at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Boston Scientific. She says she was drawn to organizational behavior, and academic research, while pursuing her MBA in management from Bentley University in 2008. 

"With organizational studies, and this is my personal bias, I feel like you have to work for a while to really make sense of a lot of these topics,” says Humberd, whose research is now shifting to the professional identity development of medical residents. She’s also studying women’s leadership identities at an investment bank.

Humberd will present her “Updating the Organization Man” findings at the upcoming 2015 Faculty Research and Creative Work Symposium.

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