Men who take family leave viewed negatively in workplace, says new WFU study

Men who take time off for family are generally viewed more negatively in the workplace than women who take family leave, according to a recent study by a Wake Forest University business professor.

The research was published in the September issue of the academic journal Sex Roles.

In the study, Julie Holliday Wayne, adjunct assistant professor of business, examined perceptions of male and female employees who took leave to care for a newborn, a sick child or a sick parent. Her co-researcher was Bryanne Cordeiro, a Wake Forest graduate who is now a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University.

“There’s much discussion these days that organizations should strive to be ‘family friendly’ by creating programs and policies for employees that help them achieve more work-family balance,” Wayne says. “The study’s findings support the anecdotal reports that men, more so than women, may be harmed when using family leave.”

The 242 study participants, all undergraduate students, were given mock personnel files with resumes, job descriptions, performance evaluations and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms requesting leave for various reasons: caring for a sick child, a sick parent or a newborn.

Based on that information, the students were asked to assume the role of manager and rate each employee on a range of attributes associated with being a “good corporate citizen.” Among other work-related behaviors, they evaluated how likely a worker would be to be punctual, to help a co-worker with a difficult project, to work overtime if needed, to offer emotional support in times of trouble, to have better attendance than most employees or to limit time spent at work on personal calls.

Participants generally rated male employees who took leave to care for a newborn or ailing parent less favorably than women who did the same, she said. Wayne found it was acceptable for men to take time off to care for a sick child, but not for newborns or ailing parents. Male evaluators were the toughest on male employees, rating them far less favorably than women who took leave for the same reasons.

What this suggests is that women get more latitude when they take family leave to care for a family member—including infants or an elderly parent—while men get the same consideration only when they take leave to care for a sick child, she says.

“Working fathers may have to choose between taking leave to care for family needs and being perceived negatively at work, or not taking care of family needs in order to avoid undue penalties at work,” says Wayne, who teaches in the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy at Wake Forest.

Although the FMLA guarantees a job upon return from leave, the law cannot control others’ perception of the employee upon his or her return. She suggests that employers should not only implement family friendly policies, but create a culture in which it is acceptable for both men and women to equally participate in and benefit from those policies.

“In the same way that women should have opportunity for involvement in the workplace, men should have opportunity for involvement in the family.”

Categories: Community, Research, School of Business