Dads opt for buyouts to spend more time with kids


From Saturday's Globe and Mail

February 6, 2009 at 10:13 PM EST

Randy Short has become something of a jungle gym for his kids.

“I feel like a tree,” the 40-year-old said with a chuckle from his home in Oshawa, Ont. “They love it. They're climbing on me every day.”

That was around 2 p.m., almost the time he would typically stir from sleep and prepare for yet another overnight shift piecing together Impalas at the General Motors plant.

But now he spends his days at home with his children, aged six and two, ever since taking a buyout from the struggling auto maker which cut jobs and doled out voluntary separation packages in an effort to brave the swelling tide of the recession.

Morale at GM was toxic leading up to December when Mr. Short, whose long shifts stole time from his family life, decided to take the money and run.

“Now I can spend the time with my kids and hopefully get into something that I am going to enjoy,” he said.

Mr. Short is just one father in the suffering work force who sees buyout packages as a safer bet than running the risk of a layoff.

It isn't any wonder. The Canadian economy bled 129,000 jobs in January, the biggest nationwide loss ever in the first month of the year, according to figures released Friday by Statistics Canada. In January, the unemployment rate rocketed to 7.2 per cent – the highest point since November, 2004.

More men than women are leaving the work force, too. Eighty-two per cent of recent jobs shed in the United States belonged to men, in part because they are more heavily represented in the auto and manufacturing sectors.

That trend is echoed in Canada. Manufacturing took the lion's share of the layoffs in January, accounting for 101,000 jobs. The axe fell mostly on workers aged 25 to 54, and also people aged 15 to 24.

“It's manufacturing that's hardest hit and in manufacturing it's mostly men,” says Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa. “They're probably the manufacturing guys who are taking [the buyout and] the opportunity to reskill.''

Although buyouts are often associated with work force veterans already on the cusp of retirement, it's not surprising for younger workers to see the writing on the wall and opt for a buyout over a layoff, she says.

“It's absolutely not just the older people. It's actually more likely to be Gen X.” These workers don't tend to be as loyal to their employers as boomers are and would rather make less money than have work dominate their lives.

While lacking faith, both Gen X moms and dads also tend to be more optimistic about future career paths, confident in the skills they've honed so far that will land them jobs to support their families, she says.

“They think, ‘I can hang tight for a year or two and when I go back I've got my pick.'”

Taking a buyout also empowers an employee, their ego gets a little less of a bruising, says Mark Thompson, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

“I think that's very important [because] it is your choice. Somebody's not coming in on Tuesday with a glum look on their face saying, ‘Sorry, but you're gone,'” he says. “I think it's a good way to keep some control over your own destiny.”

In recent years, more parents – and especially mothers – have been yearning to stay home with the kids, says Chris Higgins, a business professor with the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

“There's a latent demand there and this event is triggering that latent demand.”

While the prospect of having less income can be daunting, many are taking this chance to live a little and reflect on what they really want to do.

Mr. Short, for one, had promised himself he'd only work at GM for three years. That was almost 12 years ago. He'd studied advertising at Durham College and now sees this voluntary exit as a chance to pursue a career in computers. His mother also died in January after a lengthy battle with cancer and his newfound time off allows him to handle her estate.

While confident with his decision, he admits to harbouring some fears for the future.

“I was pretty nervous,” he says. “I didn't know what I was walking into. After so many years of knowing exactly where you're going – going in to your job and coming home – to not knowing where you were going from there. But it was kind of an excitement too. I have a positive outlook.”