Being a Father Makes You Better at Your Job

A study of working dads suggests fatherhood conveys direct benefits to employers.

A few years ago, I was in a big, fat stinking hurry for some thing that I am sure I thought was important at the time. Nick was just old enough to get his coat, hat, gloves and shoes on by himself, and I needed him to do so quickly or else we’d be late for the thing that was soooo super-important that now I can’t even remember what it was.

 

Thanks to Nick struggling to put on his winter coat, I learned a valuable lesson that helped me be a better father—and be more effective at work

So, of course I see Nick presumably fooling around and taking his sweet time getting his jacket on. We’re running late. This thing is very important. We need to get going. So, I snap at him about his jacket.

I’ve learned how to be more precise when communicating and giving instructions, and, perhaps most importantly, learned how to help people handle change and other stressful situations.

He’s a great kid and I hardly ever raise my voice to him, so he is struck by my tone, and he sheepishly says that he can’t get his sleeve on. “Of course you can,” I bark at him as I start to shove his sleeve onto his arm. But his arm won’t go through—something was blocking the sleeve. That’s when I realized I had put his hat and gloves in his sleeve earlier that day.

Nick was trying to do the right thing, but couldn’t get past an obstacle.

I apologized, tried to make him feel better, and slowed down to his speed. Somehow it turned out ok that we were 5 minutes late for that super-important thing.

My mistake was a powerful lesson that taught me to be a better dad, but also helped me in other facets of my life.

This gets me to the point of this post.

Ever since becoming a father, I’ve learned to be more patient, more tolerant, and less of a “type-A” person. I’m far happier, more relaxed, and have learned to better separate what’s worth worrying about and what isn’t.

I’ve also learned to listen better, to empathize more, and to see things from other’s perspectives. I have a better understanding that what comes easily to me does not always come easily to others. I’ve learned how to be more precise when communicating and giving instructions, and, perhaps most importantly, learned how to help people handle change and other stressful situations. (Thank you, Nick, for making me a better, happier person)

All of these fatherhood-acquired skills and perspectives also serve me well at work. My college students usually try to do the right thing, but get stuck by real and self-imposed obstacles. They are just being introduced to information and perspectives that I’ve been focusing on for almost two decades. They have different learning styles, and come to my classroom with different experiences and perspectives. I now better understand my students, and have gotten better at reaching them. Thanks to being a father, I am a far more effective college professor.

At work, I have also had opportunities to supervise other professors as department chair, run committees, and be an informal leader on team project work. As a now-tenured professor, I have also been called on to mentor new faculty.

My work colleagues also usually try to do the right thing, but get stuck by real or self-imposed obstacles. They have different specializations, personalities and communication styles. Many of my colleagues have a difficult time trying new things or working in new ways. I now better understand my colleagues, and have gotten better working with them. Thanks to being a father, I am more effective as an informal leader at work.

I suspect many of you have similar experiences, in that the perspectives and skills you acquire as a father spill over into your performance at work. Through fatherhood, many of us have learned to be more organized, efficient, empathetic, and to better differentiate what is/is not truly important. These skills apply to all aspects of life, including at work.

Now there is evidence that fatherhood enhances and enriches us in our work roles. According to a tremendous study by the Boston College Center for Work and Family (much more on BC’s work to come in posts later in the year), in which they surveyed 963 working fathers:

  • 64% of working dads agreed that involvement with their family gave them knowledge/skills that made them better employees
  • 61% agreed that family life made them use their time more efficiently, helping them be better employees
  • 82% agreed that family life made them feel happier, helping them be better employees

We almost always talk about the conflict between work and family. This definitely exists, as there is only so much time that can be devoted to each, and time spent on one almost always means less time spent on the other.

However, we often neglect to mention how our work and family lives can enhance and enrich the other (a future post will focus on how work skills can translate to successful parenting). I bet most of us are better employees because of our fatherhood experiences.

… Just remember to be patient with kids (and coworkers) putting on their jackets.

What is your experience regarding having your family life enhance your work? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

 

This was previously published on Fathers, Work and Family.

Read more on Work/Life Balance on The Good Life.

Image credit: lownote/Flickr

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About Scott Behson

Scott Behson is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and an overall grateful guy. He runs the www.FathersWorkandFamily.com blog dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family and encouraging more supportive workplaces, and also writes for Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, and, most recently, Time. He lives in Nyack, NY with his wife, Amy, and son, Nick. Contact him @ScottBehson on twitter.

Comments

  1. this fella says:

    breeder fluff … weak agit-prop

  2. wellokaythen says:

    Fatherhood can be a great experience for acquiring life skills. It can help prepare you for other challenges in your life. I’ve never really doubted that.

    For me the larger question has always been whether it’s the BEST way to acquire those skills. It’s certainly not the only way to get those skills. Do parents make better employees than non-parents? I’ve heard many parents answer in the affirmative, but I’m not necessarily convinced that is true.

    I’d be curious to see if there are any polls of childfree people about how being childfree/childless has helped them in their careers. I can only imagine having more time available could help one’s career immeasurably. I suspect that one would find similar conclusions among people when you ask them about anything that’s important to them.

    How much has [this thing you’ve spent a lot of time doing] made your life better? Fill in the blank with many different topics (being a dog owner, doing yoga, running a marathon, going to church, baking cookies) and you’ll probably find comparable numbers – no doubt most dog owners would say that it has made them better people.

    My concern is that there may be many employers out there (generally the ones who are parents themselves) who assume that people with children make better employees and will therefore be more likely to discriminate on the basis of family status.

    • this fella says:

      One can only assume part of the allure to employers would be that the employee has dependents & perhaps more tied to their jobs than their non-parent counterparts

      • wellokaythen says:

        That makes sense, I suppose, if you think of parenting as something that makes it less likely for you to pick up and move. That’s true. Then again, the flipside is you may wind up with an employee who feels completely trapped in his life and depressed about his lack of choices. There is a certain dependability in someone who, for example, needs his job in order to keep health benefits for his kids. But, is that really a good motivation for the worker to go the extra mile, or is it just incentive to put in the minimum hours?

        It would depend on what you are looking for in an employee, I suppose. In some jobs, if you have experience dealing with crying infants you are well-suited for working with some of your fellow employees. Spotting when your boss has missed his nap could come in real handy.

        And, of course, this rootedness would be a disadvantage if the job called for lots of traveling or the possibility of transferring to a different branch of the company on the other side of the country.

  3. Hi All-

    I look forward to the discussion on my article. Let me just head off a few criticisms at the pass…

    1. You do not NEED to be a father to learn how to better handle interpersonal relationships at work. I happened to find it extremely helpful, as did those surveyed by Boston College. But one size does NOT fit all
    2. I’m sure much of what I write here applied equally to women. This is a men’s magazine, and my blog is focused on fathers’ work-family issues, so that’s why it is slanted towards men.

    Thanks for reading and for contributing to the discussion!

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