How the 50-hour week is impacting dads, and what workplaces can do to improve their mental health
A webinar hosted by The Fathering Project this week to mark the upcoming International Men’s Day on 19 November outlined key issues causing workplace stress among men and suggested ways businesses could improve their approach to facilitating better work-life balance.
The session, led by clinical psychologist Dr James Brown, focused on the experience of a typical male, working 50+ hours a week while also raising a young family with a partner who works part-time.
In the case study example, “Rob” is beset with fatigue and anxiety. He is sleep-deprived, exhausted, and has difficulty concentrating.
“He represents many men I have worked with over the years,” said Dr Brown. “Men are going through an incredible period of adjustment.”
Over the past 50 years, he expanded, expectations had shifted from men being the primary breadwinner, to also becoming more involved with their children while working long hours.
“Today’s fathers are experiencing a striking paradox. They are expected to be more hands-on and involved, but there have not been systemic changes to accommodate that.”
Work-family conflict and competing childcare and job demands led to anxiety and depression in the workplace, and distractibility, “feeling like they are in one place but not able to focus because their mind is elsewhere.”
“They lack role models on how to deal with these things,” said Dr Brown, noting that one in 8 men will experience a depressive illness in their lifetime and 1 in 5 will experience an anxiety disorder.
Dr Brown pointed to a study of 3500 fathers undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies that showed 50% of dads were working more than 50 hours a week, on top of home-care tasks.
He cited social determinants of financial pressure, work stress, and relationship issues as major factors in men’s mental health.
So, what can organisations do to help? Dr Brown quoted the ground-breaking report from U.S Surgeon General Dr V.H. Murthy, who said: “Workplaces can be engines of mental health and wellbeing.”
“Organisations can be drivers of change and promoting well-being,” Dr Brown said.
This can be achieved through job redesign, improving leadership culture, formalising flexible work arrangements, encouraging paid parental leave, and addressing stereotypes and stigma.
It was important for leaders to role model self-care and provide empathetic support for men. “Much of the problem is to do with how society responds to men in distress,” he said.
Changing stereotypes in the workplace meant taking a more visible, spot-lighted approach to fathers choosing parental leave so that they felt supported and encouraged to do so.
“If men take up that option and if they spend that early period of time with an infant, they are going to learn a template of balancing work and family roles that will sustain them in their long-term career. It has great benefit across time,” he said.
One simple measure, suggested Dr Brown, was to hold a morning tea for a dad who was taking parental leave, and to send him off with some cash in an envelope and encouraging words.
A slide from Dr Brown's presentation at The Fathering Project seminar on Thursday, 9 November 2023.