Laura’s note: This piece originally ran at the Huffington Post for Father’s Day in 2010
It’s Father’s Day this week, which means stores are bracing for a run on neckties. Some luckier fathers, though, will receive gifts for that hot new room in any house: the Man Cave.
This is the space where a guy can relax and be himself. Usually, (at least according to the Man Caves show on the DIY network) it features sports jerseys on the wall, a humidor, a comfy couch, and/or a drum set. High-end versions might actually have a bar.
But here’s something else to consider putting in: a desk and a computer. Though that doesn’t sound very relaxing, combining a man cave with a home office might actually make Dad’s life a lot better than the media center you think he’s dreaming of.
Here’s the reason: it turns out that men are feeling a lot of stress about combining their careers and personal lives these days. According to one recent survey from the Families and Work Institute, 59% of fathers in dual-income families feel stress about this, compared with 45% of moms.
While that defies conventional wisdom and a lot of widespread whining (we normally think of work-life “balance” as a women’s issue) it makes sense. Men work a lot more hours than women. Among couples with kids, according to the American Time Use Survey, dads log close to 6 hours more at work per week than their wives, even when both have full-time jobs. Yet the standards of what guys are expected to do domestically have shot up over the past 40 years. Yes, they do fewer hours of childcare than women, but you can see the change on playgrounds, at day-care pickups, in pediatricians’ offices and in sheer childcare competence. The other day, when I was taking off to meet my husband at our son’s birthday party, he sent me a text message reminding me to pack diapers. I somehow can’t picture my grandfathers ever thinking about this.
The net result of longer hours and home front duties can be the same stress women often talk about. But it turns out there’s a solution. According to a recent study done by Brigham Young University researchers, looking at IBM worker data, the key is flexibility and a home office.
These researchers looked at IBM time logs and surveyed workers to find a “break point” — that is, the number of work hours per week at which 25% of people felt stressed about their time. If you had to be in an office at certain hours, this hit at 38 hours per week. That’s a problem because the average dad with a full time job clocks 40-45 hours. If you could set your own hours and work from home sometimes, though, the break point didn’t hit until 57 hours per week.
That is a lot of time. It’s far more time than most people actually work, which suggests that a well-used home office can pretty much make work-life stress disappear.
So if you want to make Dad happy, forget the necktie. Help him outfit that man cave to be a home office, and (perhaps more importantly) encourage him to look for a job that lets him use it. That’s a win for an employer — 57 hours is more than 38, last time I checked — and a win for Dad too. As long as he holds off on hitting the man cave bar until at least 5pm or so.
Photo courtesy flickr user Yasuhiko Ito