Should I stay or should I go?: Penalties for briefly de-prioritizing work or childcare
Both men and women face repercussions for briefly stepping away from child-care or professional responsibilities, regardless of the reason for doing so. However, male employees are viewed as more dedicated to their job and as less risky for their workplace than their female counterparts.
Parents are perceived as playing a central role in their children's social, cognitive, physical development and are expected to devote most of their time to their children. At the same time, the ideal worker must commit to long hours, constant availability, and putting job-related duties ahead of family-related ones. Working parents, as a result, may hold seemingly incompatible roles, with expectations related to work and childcare responsibilities often conflicting.
Research suggests that parents are likely to encounter negative evaluations from employers or coworkers if they prioritize childcare or self-care over work. Existing research has not examined, however, the repercussions parents may face for de-prioritizing childcare for work or self-care. Related literature suggests that women who de-prioritize childcare may be at greater risk of negative perceptions than their male counterparts, as caregiving is stereotypically perceived as women's primary role. The social backlash is understood to stem from the pursuit of secondary roles at the expense of a primary one. Assessing how parents are viewed when they prioritize other responsibilities over caregiving and how employees are viewed when they put other roles ahead of their professional one is essential to understanding the consequences when these roles come into conflict.
In this study, the authors explored the potential repercussions of brief de-prioritization of parental or professional responsibilities, with the aim of understanding how the reason for de-prioritization or the gender of parent or employee changes the severity of consequences.
In Experiment 1, parents of both genders were viewed negatively when they de-prioritized their childcare responsibilities for either work or self-care, as compared to the control condition.
Both mothers and fathers were seen as less competent (work (d = −1.28) and self-care (d = −1.77)), less likable (work (d = −.87) and self-care (d = −.85)), less dedicated to their family (work (d = −1.33) and self-care (d = −1.30)), and putting their child in greater danger (work ( d = 1.59) and self-care (d = 1.49))*. *with d representing the difference in average Likert scale points for that group.
Across all measures, there were no significant effects related to the rationale for de-prioritization or to the parent's gender.
Female participants viewed parents in the self-care condition as putting their child at greater risk than their male counterparts.
In Experiment 2, employees of both genders were viewed negatively when they de-prioritized their professional responsibilities for childcare and, to an even greater extent, for self-care, as compared to the control condition.
- Both mothers and fathers were seen as less competent ((childcare ( d = .72) and self-care (d = 1.04)), less likable (childcare (d = .69) and self-care (d = 1.13)), less dedicated to their work ((d = 1.22) and self-care (d = 1.58)), posing greater risks for the work environment (childcare (d = 2.01) and self-care (d = 1.98)), less deserving of rewards (childcare (d = .83) and self-care (d = 1.05)), and more deserving of penalties (childcare (d = .57) and self-care (d = .96)).
- Across all but one condition (risks for the work environment), both male and female employees were viewed more negatively for de-prioritizing work for self-care than for childcare.
- Female participants were more likely to rate all employees as more competent (regardless of experiment condition), and male participants rated all employees as more worthy of penalties than their female counterparts (regardless of experiment condition).
- Male employees were viewed as more dedicated than female employees (regardless of experiment condition).
- Lastly, female employees who did not step away from their work were viewed as a higher risk to the work environment than their male counterparts.
These findings reveal that, regardless of gender, both parents and employees face penalties for de-prioritizing either professional or childcare responsibilities. They particularly illustrate the backlash employees face for prioritizing their own self-care, as well as the persistence of gender bias in the workplace, as mothers are viewed as putting their coworkers, customers, and company at greater risk than fathers. Ultimately, these findings underscore the need for interventions that mitigate the negative consequences of de-prioritization, enabling parents and employees to exist beyond the bounds of a primary role without penalties.
- A sample of 488 people were recruited through Amazon's Mechanical Turk (Mturk) and compensated $1.00 for participating. They were randomly assigned to read one of six vignettes depicting the relationship between a parent and their child. In a de-prioritization condition, the vignettes described a parent using a verified online site to schedule a babysitter for the next day in order to either attend a work meeting or to have some time alone. In a control condition, the vignettes described a parent using the online website to search for a babysitter, but, in the end, deciding not to book one for the next day and staying with their child. The presented vignettes varied only based on the gender of the parent (male or female) and decision to leave (left for a meeting, left for self-care, or did not leave). After reading a vignette, participants were asked questions measuring the depicted parent's parental competence, likability, family dedication, as well as the risk posed to their child. Competence, dedication, and risk were measured on Likert scales ranged from 1 to 7, with higher numbers indicating greater amounts of each construct. Questions on likeability ranged from 1 to 7 or 1 to 100.
A sample of 494 people were recruited through Mturk and compensated $1.00 for participating. They were randomly assigned to read one of six vignettes describing an employee's decision to leave work for a few hours (with advanced supervisor approval). Like in Experiment 1, the vignettes differed based on the gender of the employee and the decision to leave (left work for childcare, left work for self-care, or did not leave), with those depicting scenarios in which the employee left falling into the de-prioritization condition and those in which the employee stayed constituting the control condition. After reading a vignette, participants were asked questions measuring the depicted employee's professional competence, likability, work dedication, risk to the work environment (e.g. customer safety, productivity), deservingness of rewards (e.g. salary bonus, mentorship role), and deservingness of penalizes (e.g. demotion, decreased responsibilities). Competence, dedication, risk, penalties, and rewards scales ranged from 1 to 7, with higher numbers indicating greater amounts of each construct and questions on the likeability scale ranged from 1 to 10 or 1 to 100.