Improved paternity leave take-up could be good for business

There is so much written about maternity leave and its impact on the workplace, but until recently the father’s role has been neglected.

Currently statutory paternity leave is a maximum of two weeks, but, as families take on the added financial burdens of a baby and a single income, it is understandable why men may be reluctant to take this up.

Social norms have been shifting for decades, and it is not unusual now for women to be the main breadwinners in their families, or for men to want a greater involvement in their children’s lives.

With these new roles and requirements, the way employees want to work has also changed and government and employers need to start to evolve to reflect this.

The recent changes to paternity legislation are a step toward recognising the importance of allowing families to make the best choices for their situation. The new rules will allow parents to share leave after the first six months, potentially enabling women to return to work sooner and men to take extended paternity leave.

Dad’s the word

The benefits of taking paternity leave are plentiful; increased fatherly involvement is proven to have a positive effect on a child’s development in many ways, as well as on the parents’ relationship.

In addition, research from the Fathers Institute states that a fathers’ involvement in infant care is positively correlated with his satisfaction with family life and adjustment to parenthood.

These effects are beneficial for any business employing new fathers, as it means men returning to work are more prepared and capable of dealing with being a working parent and minimising the impact on their performance.

Especially in the current climate, the importance of talent to a business’s success is clear and fatherhood is a key stage where companies must engage with talented individuals in order to retain them.

This involves not only providing support during paternity leave, but also by operating further family-friendly policies.

Employees will be looking for these incentives to remain with a company well in advance of planning for their families, so companies need to make these policies an intrinsic part of the culture at all levels.

As recently reported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, there is a very low take-up of paternity leave and this is an issue for all those in contact with a new father.

Taking the time to acclimatise to the role can have negative repercussions, not only for the individual but for their partner, extended team, manager and clients.

The report found that the reasons why men do not take their full leave range from practical things, such as money, to more deep-rooted unconscious barriers, including fear of being perceived as ‘weak’ in the workplace.

The lack of visible role models, of businessmen who take full paternity leave, only serves to strengthen these beliefs.

Initiatives such as the government’s changes to legislation are beginning to address the practical obstacles, but the others need to be changed at a fundamental level.

We are all conscious of social stereotyping, and this seems to be an important influence on men’s behaviour with regard to fatherhood in the workplace. When recently hosting a roundtable on our research into maternity in the workplace, it became apparent that there is a considerable difference between men and women on such matters.

In general, HR professionals noted that men seem much more commercially driven, so are more likely to take leave if it is encouraged by the company.

Equally, their attitudes toward flexible working seems to be more informal than women – meaning that they are more comfortable to work when it suits them rather than formally request flexible hours.

Forward-looking employers, such as financial firms Citi and Credit Suisse, have recognised the value of supporting new fathers and provide coaching for the individuals and their managers to ensure this delicate transition is carefully looked after.

Countries such as Sweden recognise the importance of encouraging men to take their paternity leave early on, and create incentives fathers to take their full allocation.

By visibly supporting a family-friendly attitude at all levels, they are creating cultural change and help ensure that all talented individuals are engaged and retained.

by Chris Parke, managing director, Talking Talent

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