Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fathers and children

The ABS released a study (as part of their annual social trends review) of fathers and how much they are working these days. In previous posts, I've trawled through various ABS products to find out how many stay-at-home dads there are. This study answers the question - 3.4% of families with children under 15 had a father not working while the mother worked full or part-time. A further 6.3% had neither parent working.

The ABS didn't analyse how many families had a mother full-time and father part-time (our arrangement) but about 7% of fathers in total are employed part-time, and that's an increase from 4% in just over 10 years. I think that's the big story. I'm on an email list for mothers who work with the dad at home, and I'd say about half of the dads in that group actually have some paid work. So looking just at stay-at-home dads who don't do any paid work is going to miss lots of families where the dad is the primary carer (a very popular pattern with the genders reversed).

But for fathers and mothers working full time, the use of overtime has increased in the last few years. So the world of work is polarising even more into part-time and very full-time jobs. My personal preference for how we would manage our family would be for us both to have serious part-time jobs. But employers would much much rather have one very full time person than two good part time people.

David Maister had a great post on this topic, in which his view (as a consultant to professional services firms, rather than the whole world of work) is that the whole organisation has have the same view about "intensity" (I think he means willingness to drop everything and work), or it won't work, the organisation is in conflict. And from an organisation's view, if you have an unlimited pool of people that you can choose from, I'm not sure that I disagree. But the world isn't like that; if you're trying to choose great people for your organisation, sometimes you have to compromise, and I think I'd rather compromise on intensity than some other things like the ability to talk to people.


At 9:11 am, Blogger davidmaister said...

For those who don't want to come over to the other discussion on my blog, here's my reaction to Jennifer's thoughts.

Jennifer, you’re right that many people in your business (and in others) translate “shared intensity” to mean work long hours until you drop. I don’t and I don’t believe in it and I certainly don’t live that way personally.

I also concur wholeheartedly, that someone with higher qulaity standards who works fewer hours is worth much more than someone with lesser quality and higher hours (or higher status.)

I’m not trying to enshrine hours or workload, and I don’t think you are trying to ignore it. Neither of us is making simple-minded arguments.

Like you (if your blog decription is still accurate,) I’m a social liberal but economic conservative.

For me that translates into being very tolerant at the social and personal level and celebrating diverse social choices – leave the other person alone to live their life according to THEIR sense of values.

But as an economic conservative (and pragmatic business observer) my original query remains: what’s the PRACTICAL reality of forming an organization which offers a wide choice on this stuff?

I have, in my own tiny operation, found it possible to do exactly what you say: work around someone who wanted to work fewer hours. I can see dealing with one or two special cases. I’m NOT AWARE of larger firms that have been able (sucessfully) to extend that choice to everyone.

Do you know of any? I’d loved to be proven wrong in the facts. MAybe an organization can pull it off, and you and I can reconcile our economics with our social tolerance. But can we?


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