Spotlight on…

You are more likely to spot new dads writing a report at their desk than at home changing nappies or pushing buggies, according to a new study by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The report found that, while fatherhood might be a life-changing experience, it has little effect on men’s working patterns.

Other recent research shows that fathers are less likely than mothers to take parental leave or their right to request flexible working if they have children under the age of six.

And a recent YouGov study for savings firm ING Direct found that more than half of new fathers do not take paternity leave, despite being entitled to two weeks, with most employers offering three.

Workplace cultures ruled by long hours and macho attitudes – as well as the belief that the only way to progress is by being seen to be at your desk – have a lot to answer for, believes Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

“Our research shows that the company culture is really important in terms of how much time away from the office fathers feel is acceptable to ask for or take,” she says. “A lot of companies have great policies, but they get stuck in drawers collecting dust or they’re on some remote part of the intranet, which means the culture overrides the rules.”

There is also the potential squeeze financially – particularly in companies where the statutory weekly pay for paternity leave (£108.85 per week for two weeks) is all that is offered.

Jonathan Swan, information policy officer at Working Families, adds that many fathers are not aware of, or are misinformed about, their paternity rights.

He says: “Men call our help­line to say their employers have forbidden them paternity leave.”

This type of sentiment is echoed by the latest TUC report, which found fathers are far more likely than mothers to have their request for flexible hours turned down.

Esther Dermott, from the sociology department of Bristol University, believes that HR should promote more flexible working options for male workers.

“While new dads don’t want to work fewer hours, we found that many do value the ability to control their working hours so that they can do things like go to school functions or play with their children before their bedtime,” she says.

Telecoms company BT offers a ‘reason-neutral’ policy for flexible working, which Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, says has proved particularly successful with new fathers. BT has also addressed the cultural issues that discourage fathers from taking what is entitled to them.

Waters says: “For women, it is socially acceptable to engage with maternity policies. What we have done is create that same sense of permission and access for fathers by running in-house profiles of dads who work flexibly and encouraging our management to lead by example.”

Supermarket chain Asda is also proactive in supporting new fathers.

Stuart Price, colleague relations adviser, says: “It makes business sense to show commitment to new fathers.” In cases of twins or multiple births, Asda offers four weeks’ paternity leave on full pay, and it gives fathers four hours’ paid leave for each antenatal appointment, which matches its maternity policy.

BT and Asda demonstrate that rights for parents don’t stop with the mother – so while you can’t force fathers to take leave, at least make sure they know it is there.

Daddies: do’s and don’ts

Do



  • go beyond your statutory duty and shout about it as an employee perk

  • focus on employee-controlled forms of flexibility

Don’t



  • assume new fathers want to work shorter hours – most don’t

  • forget about new dads – this simply reinforces the idea that only womenhave to juggle childcare and work

Fathers get freephone helpline

 

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