5 reasons you need an official paternity leave policy

Nikoletta Bika | |

While the struggle for statutory maternity leave has been making visible progress in recent years, efforts to deliver laws on paternity leave are still in their infancy. There are paternity leave policies on the books in about 80 countries but many of them appear little more than symbolic. Countries like Italy or Greece offer a couple of days while many European nations offer no more than two weeks.

Predictably, it’s the Scandinavian countries who set the standard for equality in parenting. In Norway, 9 out of 10 dads take at least 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. Fathers in Sweden can use a minimum of eight weeks before they are allowed to transfer the rest of their 32-week paid leave to their partners.

The United States stands somewhere in the middle. Both moms and dads can use 12 weeks of unpaid leave for parenting. But the “unpaid” part of that, when added to other social barriers, makes it difficult for fathers to use it. In fact, in a 2014 study, 8 out of 10 male employees stated they would not use paternity leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their wages.

So is a paternity policy really needed? Its social benefits are consistently supported by research: from evening out male-female relationships to helping children to perform better at school. If you’re looking into the business case for an official paternity leave policy, here’s five reasons to get on it:

1.Work/life conflicts are a reality for men too

The notion that only women care for children is outdated. As fathers’ share of parenting increases, they experience similar difficulties to women: their job and family duties begin to clash. It is natural that fathers’ productivity is influenced by their ability to care for and bond with their children — especially in those first months. A paternity policy is a conscious effort to alleviate the increasing struggles of working fathers.

2. Be a more desirable place to work

The retention of the workforce has been indicated frequently as a benefit of parental leave policies. But it can go further than that by helping you attract the best people in the first place. In a survey of about 1,000 working fathers, nine out of ten of them said that they would consider the existence of a paternity leave policy as an important reason to choose a new employer. This is especially important for small businesses that may not be able to offer the higher wages larger companies do. Shaping an official paternity leave policy can help you in recruiting and retaining top talent.

3. Equality cuts both ways

Many businesses these days talk a good game on diversity, with a ton of research showing the business benefits of diverse teams. Yet research has found that policies that support a diverse workforce may make members of some privileged groups feel threatened thus affecting their overall performance and productivity. This is a reason why a maternity leave policy should never stand alone in a business. A paternity leave policy is a necessary step to avoid male employees feeling excluded and is a definite step towards establishing equality in your company.

4. Encourage more men to take paternity leave

Taking unpaid paternity leave may easily bring financial difficulties to a family. Hence, it’s not surprising that nine out of ten men are back to work in less than two weeks after the birth of their child. Even though this is when mother and baby begin to really need help. Part of this is down to cultural bias with dads seeing themselves as breadwinners. But an official paternity leave policy and procedure, correctly communicated, can ensure your employees will take the leave. It works! As a study in Norway showed, once one man has taken paid leave, his colleagues are much more likely to follow suit.

5. Remove the stigma for women

The progress towards gender equality in the workforce has been profound. Yet, maternity may still have an adverse effect on women’s careers. Many of those who have taken maternity leave have less job security in the long run. The “motherhood penalty” appears on their wages and they are far less likely to be promoted. A paternity leave policy can help remove the stigma from women. A study in Sweden showed that for every month the father took for paternity leave, the mother’s earnings increased by 7%. A similar finding of a research of Quebec’s family leave program supported the importance of the “daddy quota” (leave that can’t be transferred to the mother). Mothers were more likely to be employed full-time. Their earnings also increased by 25% when their partners utilized paternity leave. Helping to close the gender gap and promote equality in the workplace is a significant benefit of paternity policies.

6. Bonus: It’s not as costly as you think

Naturally employers worry about what such policies will cost. Employees who aren’t working and are still getting paid may seem a burden to a business. Evidence proves that this is not the case. Findings of surveys in almost 250 firms in California showed that the policy of the state mandating paid leave “had minimal impact” on business operations. Additionally, 9 out of 10 employers indicated that there was a neutral or positive impact to the profitability of businesses, as well as productivity of employees.

These statistics make a point that parental leave policies don’t just sound good in theory. They make sense on a business level, a fact of which many companies, including your competitors, are becoming increasingly aware. If you’re ready to put a policy and procedure in place, use Workable’s customizable template for your company’s paternity leave policy.

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Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta Bika is a senior writer at Workable and holds an MSc in HR. She writes about all things HR and recruiting, with a particular interest in bias, data, technology and the future of work. She hates meaningless jargon and dreams about space travel. She tweets @Nikoletta_Bika.

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