More men are coming around to the concept of flexible hours

Working women

August 12, 1991|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Making use of flexible work hours is an important option not only for women but also for men, according to a high-ranking executive of a major U.S. corporation.

"Men make up the majority of the work force, and until they start participating more equally in family responsibilities, it is going to be left to women -- who also work -- to run the home and raise the children," said Faith Wohl, director of the work-force partnering division of corporate human resources at Du Pont Co., the chemical producer based in Wilmington, Del.

"When you look at a company like ours, where 76 percent of 95,000 domestic employees are men, you see the importance of men also taking advantage of flexible hours," Wohl said.

Nationwide, 52 percent of 463 companies surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans in Brookfield, Wis., offer flextime, according to American Demographics magazine. By the year 2000, the percentage is expected to leap to 86 percent.

Du Pont is one of the pioneers in work-family options. Its flexible programs include work hours that can be scheduled on a daily or weekly basis as needed: a workweek of four 10-hour days, job-sharing and benefits for part-time workers.

Wohl said that even though "men want to be active fathers and involved in problems related to the care of children," only a handful of male employees have taken advantage of Du Pont's flexible hours.

But indications are that usage may go up soon: A Du Pont work and family study of 8,500 employees at three major Du Pont sites in the United States shows that 56 percent of the 6,000 men surveyed are interested in flextime. Five years ago, only 37 percent were. A majority of the men surveyed were from dual-career households; 20 percent had at least one child in day care.

The number of Du Pont women who favor flexible work options holds steady at 76 percent.

"Those of us who are living in the midst of this can see the tremendous social transformation under way," said Wohl, who has been at Du Pont 18 years. "The pace may seem slow, but in PTC 5 or 10 years we will look back and see this was a real turning point in the way people thought about their jobs and family."

That men also want flextime is a cultural change, said Hal Morgan, co-author with his wife, Kerry Tucker, of "Companies That Care" (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, $12.95). "My generation of men is more interested in dropping stereotypical sex roles and being involved in child-rearing," Morgan said "Flexible hours give you that option. It's the one benefit important to workers with family responsibilities because it allows you the time you need during the workday to be involved with kids. Why should the whole burden fall on mothers?"

Morgan, of Guilford, Conn., is a former publisher. Currently an MBA student at Yale University, he is serving a summer internship at Work/Family Directions in Boston. He and his wife, an author and lawyer, work four-day weeks in order to be with their son, age 3.

In doing research for the book, which surveys the most "family-friendly" companies and includes information on child care, elder care and workplace flexibility, Morgan said he found that while most men follow a "traditional" route, more and more want flexible hours.

Don Brunk, 33, an engineering specialist at Du Pont's experimental station in Wilmington, is adamant that he wants more time to spend with his son, age 1, and to pursue interests close to his heart, such as being active in his church and peace organizations.

Each week, Brunk works four 10-hour days, from 7:15 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; his wife, Laurie, a clinical nurse specialist at Temple University in Philadelphia, works half-days three days a week.

"There's a need for flextime" said Brunk, who earned his %J bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering at Virginia Technical University in Blacksburg. "I've felt that way all during my professional career. It seems an intelligent way to do business."

Brunk, under Du Pont's family-leave policy, took off three weeks when his son was born and then worked 20 hours a week for two months before assuming his present schedule.

"I'm part of an interdisciplinary team, and what makes my schedule work is that it's not necessary for me to be physically present at all times when the work is happening," Brunk said. "Between my schedule and my wife's, our son usually needs day care only one or two days a week, and that's important to us."

Brunk wants to explore the possibility of working part time because "I want to spend more of my time with my child."

When asked if working flexible hours will interfere with his career advancement, the way it usually does with women who do not work traditional hours, Brunk replied: "This has been the best year of my life. It's just been wonderful to be with my son and watch him as he develops."

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