This is Part 5 of our Men’s Mental Health blog series.
What paternity leave has meant to me and my family
I discovered the importance of paternity leave through two very different experiences with the birth of my children.
I missed so much during my wife’s first pregnancy, because I was working long hours in healthcare consulting. I distinctly remember being in Texas for work and getting a text from my wife, telling me what the ultrasound of our first child looked like. Being thousands of miles away and knowing I wouldn’t be back for three more days to hold this picture in my hand was gut wrenching.
Even though the company I worked for at the time said they would try to be accommodating when I became a working dad, they didn’t really offer paternity leave at the time. And I quickly realized that if I stayed at that job, I wouldn’t be around much as my baby grew up.
My wife and I also knew it was going to be hard to raise our first child with both of us working busy jobs, so I decided to transition to being a full-time stay-at-home dad.
This was a big change from doing consulting work, but it allowed me to be there for my newborn son every day—and I wouldn’t have missed that bonding time for the world.
A turning point for my family
After four years of being a stay-at-home dad, I joined Spring Health as a full-time employee, and our second child turned two.
We recently welcomed our third child, and this was such a different experience. My wife took three months of maternity leave, and I took three months of paid paternity leave after that. This gave us six months of bonding time during those important early stages of child development.
Finding Spring Health was a turning point for me and my family. During the interview process, the years I took off to raise my son didn’t matter. Since I came on board, I’ve felt supported as a working dad by my managers and my entire team.
I’ve also been given the flexibility to get my work done within nontraditional working hours. I often work after my kids go to bed or early in the morning before they wake up, which gives me more time with my family.
I feel really fortunate to have found an employer that recognizes employees can be successful and productive outside the normal 9-5 work day, and understands how important prioritizing family is.
The many benefits of paid leave
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without federally mandated paid parental leave.
The reality of this framework is a hodgepodge of confusing practices that differ state by state. Non-birthing parents are often given zero paid leave, and even the birthing parent may not get any paid leave.
Yet, providing paternity leave benefits both employees and their families in a myriad of ways. Studies have shown that this strengthens family bonds, lowers the chance of divorce, improves the birthing parent’s mental health, and lowers their chance of postpartum complications.
Part of gender equality in the workplace
Many companies are focusing on doing better at supporting women in the workplace. Paternity leave is an excellent way to support working families overall, and there are specific benefits for women as well.
During the pandemic, more than one million women left the workforce, and childcare issues were a major part of this exodus.
When fathers are able to take more than two weeks of paid leave, studies show that childcare and housework are more equally distributed and women can resume their careers more quickly.
Why a paternity leave policy is important for every company
One of the primary reasons I quit my previous job is because I didn’t feel able or supported to take paternity leave. After my paternity leave at Spring Health, I wanted to come back and work twice as hard because I felt supported and cared for by my company, manager, and team.
During a time when employee engagement is at an all time low and attrition is high across many industries, supporting employees in this way is a huge booster to employee engagement, productivity, attracting top talent, and lowering attrition rates.
A recent quantitative research study about paternity leave showed that:
- 84% of fathers plan on taking paternity leave
- Fathers at all income levels are more interested in working for a company with paid paternity leave
- The demand for paid paternity leave is growing—even in the past five years, more fathers want to take paternity leave
- Over 80% of fathers want to share childcare responsibilities more equally with their partner, and are concerned about the gendered inequity of child care responsibilities
- Fathers are worried about the career impact of taking leave, and only half of the survey participants felt like their company supported paternity leave
- 82% of fathers support all employees having paid leave for a new baby, and want their male coworkers to take time off after the birth of a child.
In another study of highly educated working fathers, researchers found that nine out of ten consider paid paternity leave important when looking for a job, and six out of ten think it’s extremely important. The numbers are even higher for millennial aged employees.
The research is pretty clear: paternity leave is an important issue for employees and a way for companies to gain an advantage in hiring, longevity, wellbeing, retention, and engagement.
Making paternity leave part of workplace culture
It’s not enough just to have a paid paternity leave policy. Employees need to also feel safe using that leave without fearing the stigma of taking time off, or worrying that their job won’t be there when they get back.
It will likely take time to erase the stigma around father’s utilizing paternity leave. Beliefs and attitudes in the workplace around traditional gender roles won’t change overnight, but there are ways to create a culture where it is expected that new fathers take their paid leave.
Part of the hesitancy to fully support paid paternity leave may revolve around concerns among People leaders, supervisors, managers, and teams about how to negotiate an employee taking leave.
The good news is that paternity leave is one type of absence that can be planned for and more easily accommodated.
Management training is a useful way for supervisors and leaders to learn how to:
- Work out a plan and talk to their team about functioning smoothly while an employee is on leave
- Educate employees about the importance of paternity leave and beliefs around gender roles and inequality in the workplace
- Model and create an empathic environment where employees feel empowered to use their leave
Most importantly, paternity leave has to be supported at all levels of an organization, with involvement from C-suite, People leaders, managers, supervisors, and team members.
When everyone is on board and resources are made available, it is possible for new fathers to take their leave while also ensuring remaining employees aren’t overworked.
Paid paternity leave isn’t an either/or choice
There doesn’t have to be a binary choice for employers between productive employees or parents who are able to be present for their newborn.
In fact, I know from experience that when employees feel as if their family life is respected and they aren’t expected to put work over raising their children, they are far more likely to be engaged at work.
Read this blog next to discover more ways to support your employees and their families that boost productivity, attract and retain top talent, and reduce costs.