Becoming a father is one of the most important and exciting moments in a man’s life and marks a time of huge transformation. Shared parental leave enables fathers to spend important quality time with their new arrival, but businesses have a long way to go in empowering and supporting new fathers during this time.
Having a baby is a life-changing moment, yet as joyful as it is, it can also be incredibly stressful and emotionally impactful. That’s why we must take the time to highlight the challenges and mental health issues that affect men and improve how we help support all fathers during the early days of all parenthood journeys. It’s time to spotlight the inequality around parental leave and help dads feel empowered.
Fathers’ roles are changing
According to the Dad Index, the first piece of research exclusively focussed on millennial dads across Great Britain, there has been a fundamental shift in fathers’ roles, and how involved they want to be in all aspects of parenting. We now see 87% of millennial dads getting involved in day-to-day parenting duties.
There is an increasing desire to be more present during the first weeks of their child’s life; In 2019, a survey found a whopping 85% of dads said they would “do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months” after their child’s birth or adoption. When given the opportunity, you see a significant increase in the number of fathers who take parental leave. For example, in Sweden, they have a very forward-thinking approach, with both parents entitled to a combined total of 480 days, with 390 of which are paid at 80% of salary. By 2017, fathers were taking 27.9% of the allocation themselves.
Change stereotypes and stop the stigma
According to insurance company AON, 97% of employers see employee expectations of their workplace changing. But workplace cultures and management approaches are still playing catch up. Legislation may allow time off but men are often the target of negative comments about taking time off to even demotions.
Modern Families Index also found that 44% of fathers said they had lied or bent the truth to their employer about family-related responsibilities that might be seen as interfering with work. This behaviour resulted from the fear of the impact on their careers or from embarrassment in asking for entitlements. In addition, half of the parents surveyed “didn’t believe their organisation cared about their work and home balance, and more than half didn’t believe flexible working was a genuine option for men.”
Even in Sweden, with its very liberal approach to parental leave, according to a report in the Nordic Labour Journal, there are still struggles resulting from corporate expectations. For example, workplaces pressure fathers to take only those weeks allotted explicitly to them.
We need to make it easier
For those that do manage to take time off, there are challenges they face upon return. According to HR firm CIPD 56% of men currently on extended paternity leave said they felt anxious about returning to the workplace. However, only 35% of dad returners felt confident they would get the same level of support from their employer as a female employee returning from maternity leave.
Here in the UK, too many parents are still unaware of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) rights; research by commercial law firm EMW showed that in 2019 only 2% of eligible couples made use of shared parental leave.
SPL is a complex process, and many argue it doesn’t go far enough. Still, businesses need to make all types of fathers aware of their options and actively enable and support equal assistance and emotional care.
We can’t treat or assume dads are “secondary” parents. Remembering that non-birth parents have identical statutory rights and addressing the needs of LGBT+ employees who also might be going through IVF, surrogacy or adoption is just as important.
Parental Leave Coaching plays a massive role in this, both by how a company coaches managers and the soon-to-be fathers. This includes:
• Working with managers and providing structures to help fathers create supportive objective setting and agreed parental leave plans as well as supporting managers with setting and managing their expectations. This coaching includes how to conduct reviews, objective setting, and how to smoothly transition someone into a more flexible working pattern if this is new to the team or even a temporary alternative working arrangement.
• Helping fathers manage their expectations around how they want to leverage SPL and flexible working programmes to ensure they create the right work/life balance. Parental Leave Coaching can include back-to-work plans for fathers who plan on a long extended leave to help them return with confidence and boost productivity.
Some forward-leaning companies are challenging the status quo. For example, Aviva offers a more supportive parental leave programme, and 67% of men took six months. We need to make this the norm, not the exception. Furthermore, 70% of millennials believe it would make a difference if employers publicised their offer to parents around shared parental, paternity and maternity leave.
Great things happen when new fathers can participate in their child’s rearing; according to a 2016 Cornell University study, dads who take longer leave tend to be more engaged and involved with their kids in the long run. When both parents are able to be involved, it takes the pressure off for one parent to take the lead with childrearing, and being released from stereotypes and stigma can’t help but enable people to feel better about themselves and the choices they’ve made at work and home.
Lynne Hardman joined Working Transitions as its CEO in 2013. The company delivers expert solutions to support the whole employee lifecycle, with coaching and learning services for onboarding, career development, and outplacement. Previously she held executive positions at a number of leading recruitment companies, including Adecco and Hays. She brings a wealth of experience across the human capital services sector.