Thursday, May 08, 2008

Parenthood, Productivity and Billable Hours

Joe Hodnicki posted an abstract of an interesting article entitled Parenthood and Productivity: A Study of Demands, Resources and Family-Friendly Firms, on Law Librarian Blog a few days ago. Sociologists Jean Wallace and Marisa Young examined the impact of family friendly policies on the billable hours of 670 attorneys in Alberta law firms. It turns out that . . . just a second . . .
    “Maggie? What’s wrong? [Pause] But you have viola practice on Tuesdays, not Mondays. [Pause] Oh, a special practice for the spring concert. Okay, I’ll get your viola to you. Bye, sweetie.”
So where was I? Oh, yeah, Law Librarian Blog. It’s one of my daily must-reads because I can scan it in a few minutes and stay in the loop on the legal and library worlds. Anyway, it turns out that mothers with school-aged children are less productive than non-mothers, whereas fathers with preschool-aged children are more productive than non-fathers. Hmmm. I guess I’m not surprised, but . . .{brrrring, brrring}. Oh, wow, I have to take this call.
    “Mr. Joseph? Thanks so much for returning my call. Listen, I know you don’t want to hear this, but the porch roof is leaking again. [Pause] Yes, I know you’ve repaired it three times, but icicles are hanging down and I’m afraid someone will get impaled. [Pause] Yes, I realize that it’s 70 degrees outside now, but there were icicles hanging down when I started calling you in March. [Pause] Yes, I know how busy roofers are, but we’d really like you to come back to try again. [Long pause] Three weeks from Thursday between 8 am and 3 pm? Could you narrow that down a bit? [Pause] No, okay then, I’ll make arrangements to get the kids to and from school so I don’t miss you. Thanks.”
Sorry about that. So mothers with school-aged children are less productive that non-mothers, but fathers are more productive than non-fathers. And here’s the kicker . . . this phenomenon seems to occur even when family-friendly policies are in effect! So the policies are working, but . . . .{brrrring, brrring}.
    “Hi, honey. How’s your day going? [Pause] A business trip? Next Tuesday and Wednesday? No problem, I’ll get someone to stay with the kids on Tuesday night until I get home from teaching. Oh, we got the invitation for the engagement party on the 7th. I’ll RSVP and put it on the calendar? [Pause] Yeah, it’ll be fun. Any special requests for dinner? [Pause] Sounds good. See you tonight."
Back to those family-friendly policies. So by now everyone knows that taking care of kids and a house eat up women’s time, and many companies responded to this “second shift” by implementing family-friendly policies. This was a swell idea, but according to the study, “fathers seem to benefit more: family resources are positively related to their productivity and family-friendly benefits allow them more time for leisure.” Now I certainly don’t begrudge all those hard-working attorney dads out there some leisure time, but . . . .{brrrring, brrring}.
    “Hello? Yes, this is Mrs. Fischler. [Pause] Will banged his head on the monkey bars during recess? [Pause] You’ve had ice on his head for 20 minutes, but he’s feeling a little woozy? [Pause] Sure, I’ll be right over, but I’ll call the pediatrician first to find out when I can bring Will in. Thanks.”
I’m going to print this out to edit while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office with Will. Maybe I’d better take some papers to grade, too, just in case. Be back soon.

Here I am. No concussion. Whew!
    "No, Will, you cannot play on the Wii until you finish your homework and write five more thank you notes for your First Communion gifts."
I guess I might as well put in the cupcakes for the Teacher Appreciation lunch while I’m doing homework with Will. Sorry, this will be the last interruption!

So, to recap, the family-friendly policies ostensibly designed to give parents, particularly mothers, some breathing room to take care of their kids and other family responsibilities, seem to make fathers in Alberta law firms more productive and allow them to enjoy more leisure time.

Well, the good news is that since the policies are working they’re less likely to be scrapped. Of course, that also means attorneys who are mothers will continue to pull off the legal career equivalent of a “Ginger Rogers,” who was said to have done everything that Fred did, but backwards and in high heels. And just like Ginger, it won’t be quite as good as what Fred achieved. Yeah, they both received Kennedy Center Honors, but who got the first one, huh?

The bottom line is that one way or the other, we working mothers do fulfill our career responsibilities, but with the interruptions and distractions that grease the wheels of family life in the 21st century. We don’t multi-task because it’s efficient; we multi-task because there are only 24 hours in a day – and we cram an awful lot into our 24 hours! Not that I would trade this opportunity to “have it all”, but shouldn’t there be some way to design a family-friendly policy that recognizes the “power hours” of working mothers?

Oh, well, that will have to be in a future post. Time to frost the cupcakes!