This is the second Father’s Day we’re celebrating in a COVID-changed world. And, as is true for so many working parents, working dads at the executive level have spent the past year and a half learning new ways to parent while performing at work and achieving some semblance of balance between the two.
For executive-level dads who’ve had the privilege of working from home, a bright spot for many has been the ability to spend more time with their kids since the pandemic started.
Not only has that been majorly beneficial to kids, improving everything from resilience levels to emotional health, one 2021 poll found that 90% of dads say they now understand their children better. A similar 90% feel their family has grown closer since COVID began.
Of course, with the lines between work and home life blurred — or even made indistinguishable — working dads had to get creative with figuring out how to show up fully for their kids and in their careers. And those are lessons that will continue to have legs long after the pandemic has passed.
This Father’s Day, exec-level dads shared with us their biggest takeaways for achieving work-life balance today, as well as their predictions for the future of working fatherhood.
8 Ways Working Dads Can Achieve Balance
Cut down on daytime distractions.
Being fully present at work and for your kids means eliminating the noise and staying completely focused on the part of your life immediately at hand, Robert Brandl, founder of EmailToolTester, said. During the work day, that means giving your full attention to the job and avoiding tempting time-sucks, like social media.
“When I was kid-free, I often kept working more hours late into the night — but I wasn’t necessarily more productive,” Brandl said. “Now I cut down on social media and other distractions during the day to focus on getting my work done.” Working dads need to make sure that their time is structured so that it can be optimized.
Put family time on your calendar.
Keep personal commitments on your calendar alongside work ones. And if you really want to be diligent about scheduling, try mapping things out on a quarterly basis, same as you would for big work projects, suggested Max Whiteside, head of Community Engagement at BarBend.
“As a leader, when evaluating my personal work-life balance, I like to look at four specific segments of time. I start with a quarterly view, then I start breaking it down monthly, weekly and daily,” Whiteside said. “Breaking my quarters down in this manner ensures I hit the minimum hours I have committed to my family. As a father of four, time is flying by faster than ever. Purposefully scheduling my family time has been a crucial tool.”
Have tech-free time at home.
For Ivan Neo, CEO of KeaBabies, a company he founded with his wife, this was an important boundary to establish if he was going to join the ranks of successful working dads.
“It was often difficult to break away from work-mode,” Neo recalled. “We would be sitting down to lunch brainstorming ideas or seeking solutions. There was great synergy, but it wasn’t a lot of fun for the kids.”
Now, to better facilitate work-life separation, Neo has dedicated device-free time at home.
“When I am with my kids, my cellphone is in a drawer. For two full hours, I don’t even think about it,” he said. “I play with my kids, read some books and help out at bedtime. It’s important to nourish a parent-child relationship where your kids see how dedicated you are to them. “
Save extra work for when the kids aren’t around.
In an ideal world, setting and keeping a 5 p.m. end-to-work boundary would be possible. But for busy executives, that isn’t always a realistic option. When there is extra work to be done, get creative with when you do it, advised Wesley Exon, CEO of Best Value Schools.
“When you do need to bring work home, do that around your family’s schedule,” he said. “This could mean working later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed or getting up earlier before everyone is awake.”
For Matt Schroeder, CEO of Shelly Cove, that looks like finding “little pockets of time” to hop back online when spillover work can’t be avoided.
“When my wife and baby go to a workout class on Saturday mornings, I can get a little more work done to lighten my load during the week, so I can spend more time with them,” he said.
Model balanced behavior, for yourself and others.
As an executive, you have the ability to set an example and create the standard others will follow — something Eric Fischgrund, CEO of FischTank PR, says he initially struggled with.
“In the past, I would work nights and weekends — anything to make sure my clients were happy,” he said. “Since my daughter was born, I’ve informed clients, employees and really anyone else who asks that my hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and I’m not picking up calls or responding to emails outside of those windows.”
Part of ensuring others adhere to that expectation, Fischgrund adds, is adhering to it yourself: “I’ve stopped emailing anyone, mostly my employees, in the evening or early mornings when sometimes I’m awake and instead schedule all emails for 8:30 a.m.” Demanding balance in your own life contributes to making it possible for other working dads to have balance.
Another great way to model balanced behavior? Being transparent with your time, Whiteside said.
“Like most pieces of an organization’s culture, if you want it to become dogma, senior staff needs to lead from the tip of the spear,” he said. “I have implemented this in my day-to-day by making all of my calendar appointments public. My team knows when I attend my kid’s school functions, when I am stuck at home with a sick kid, or when I simply need a mental health day. Lead like a human.”
Pick supportive work partners, and delegate to them.
If you don’t trust your team, achieving balance becomes next to impossible, says Grant Aldrich, CEO of Online Degree.
“The ‘always-on’ mentality can be hard to escape as a business owner, but you have to trust in your team members when you’re not there,” Aldrich said. “You also have to give up control to be able to spend quality time with your family. Although it takes practice, I’ve gotten better at disconnecting when spending time with my family.”
Aim for integration.
Balance isn’t always helpful as an end-all, be-all goal. There are certain seasons in your life where home will require more time and energy than work, and vice versa. That’s why Mark Hayes, head of marketing at Kintell, shifted his focus to integration instead.
“I believe that searching for separations between work and home life is oftentimes a fruitless endeavor — especially in the midst of a chaotic pandemic,” Hayes said. “Instead, I believe in work-life integration based on some advice I received from a mentor several years ago. Instead of trying to block out time to work and time to spend with family, this means combining the two wherever possible.”
That, for example, means bringing his son into conversations around what he’s working on.
“My son is still a little young to understand every little thing I talk about, but I like to think that having these conversations with him is still meaningful and reinforces what it means to be a hard worker,” he said.
Know that quality matters more than quantity.
At the end of the day, we’re all doing our best as working dads against a backdrop of competing priorities. What your family is most likely to remember, Gabriel Dungan, CEO of ViscoSoft, said, is whether during the times you are with them, they have your complete, undivided attention.
“It’s about quality, not quantity,” he said. “Your spouse and your children will appreciate a strong work ethic and the occasional long hours if they have your full attention when you’re not at work. Committing to being engaged with them during family time is easier said than done, but pays incredible dividends.”