EDITORIAL: Fathers important amid work crisis 1

Nearly half of Taiwanese fathers feel alienated from their children due to work demands, a yes123 survey published on Tuesday showed.

Overwork and its effects on fathers should be tackled by the government for three reasons: It reduces productivity, which in turn affects GDP; it reduces the chances of couples conceiving and affects childrearing; and it can lead to death or injury, which costs employers, insurance companies and the healthcare system.

In the survey, respondents said that they spend on average 69.3 minutes with their children on weekdays. Yes123 spokesman Yang Tsung-bin (楊宗斌) said the results showed that the government and companies should strive to create a friendlier work environment for fathers to help ease stress and anxiety.

Moreover, it might convince couples to have more children, Yang said.

An article on the Forbes Web site on Feb. 6 last year said that men are less likely than women to ask their employers for flexibility and they feel more responsible for household earnings, which can create unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress. This can create a situation where men feel obligated to work excessively long hours and employers are unlikely to convince them otherwise. However, companies would be better off with employees — male and female — who leave on time.

A survey conducted by the Sage People Web site in February last year found that more than one-third of employees were productive for less than 30 hours a week, despite most working far more than 40 hours. The article cited Parkinson’s law, which states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Furthermore, as work hours increase, people are unproductive for a greater proportion of the time and are burning out and making more errors, it said.

Conversely, in scenarios where hours were reduced without a reduction in pay, people were found to be far more efficient. A two-year trial of six-hour workdays at a daycare center in the Swedish city of Gothenburg resulted in 10 percent fewer sick days, improved worker health and increased patient happiness, it said. Whereas overworked people tend to eat more, experience greater stress and exercise less, those with fewer work hours tend be happier and better at their jobs.

Part of this happiness, for parents at least, comes from having more time to spend with their children. This is important not only for the well-being of parents, but also for child development. A study by the Pediatric Associates of Franklin found that a father’s interaction with his children had a significant effect on the way they learned to handle other relationships. When fathers are affectionate and supportive, children tend to have a greater overall sense of well-being and self-confidence, it said.

Friends and spouses are chosen based on how a person perceives their childhood relationship with their father, it said.

There is an understanding of governance described in Confucius texts that says everything is built on the foundation of the family. When families are stable and well-run, communities will be as well, all the way up to the nation’s leader. Positive work environments for adults and stable home environments for children are crucial to a nation’s development.

Institutionalizing a balanced workweek that gives employees more time with families might solve many problems — including, importantly, the nation’s declining birthrate.