229,000 fathers now stay at home with their children – more than double than in 1993. The ONS reports this month that there’s been a 5% increase in the number of fathers giving up work in the past year, whilst the number of women at home has fallen by 45,000 to 2.04 million. According to various studies and surveys, men’s desire for a greater ‘balance’ between work and home is more apparent than ever before and a poll by the Samaritans last year found that having this ideal blend of work and home has a greater impact on men’s ‘feeling good at work’ than women’s.
In this piece I (Jessica Chivers) explore how organisations can better support men in being active fathers – including tips for line managers of paternity returners – and we discuss the impact of forthcoming shared parental leave legislation in the UK. We include the reflections of two men who have taken additional paternity leave and Duncan Fisher, founder of the Fatherhood Institute.
Why fathers matter
“The idea that it is not manly to care is absurd as it is to say it’s not womanly to work,” said Nick Clegg in response to a question from a member of the audience (who happened to be his wife, Maria Gonzalez Durante) at a City gathering to challenge how fatherhood is perceived and experienced in corporate life, last week. Absurdity or not, many men feel they cannot play as full a role in their children’s lives as they would like because of the discomfort caused – and belief that their careers will be harmed – by going against cultural norms and asking to take paternity leave; to work flexibly/on a reduced hours contract or be the one to take time off when children are ill.
And why do these things matter? Setting aside the employee retention and engagement factors, scan the research literature from the last 15-20 years and you’ll find a growing body of evidence of how significant the active involvement of fathers is on child development.
- Higher IQ and cognitive functioning and better able to deal with the stressors and frustrations associated with starting school[i]
- Emotional control and ability to deal with aggressive impulses[ii]
And as children get older, additional benefits include:
- Better social connections with peers
- More likely to exhibit self-control and pro-social (helping) behaviour and less likely to experience depression, lie or exhibit disruptive behaviour[iii]
- Greater self-esteem (girls) and fewer school behaviour problems (boys)
By creating legislation that allows parents to share leave from the very beginning of their child’s life, the UK Government hopes to set a new, more equal tone to the way men and women divide caring and earning responsibilities. It makes sense given we’re teetering on legislation for the percentage of women UK Plc’s should have on their board of directors: if we want more women in positions in power, we surely have to increase the proportion of men taking charge on the domestic front. But will the shared parental leave plans achieve what they set out to? I don’t think so.
Shared parental leave won’t change anything
Listening to Duncan Fisher eloquently explain why shared parental leave (SPL) won’t fuel mothers’ career success or help men be more active fathers induces a lot of vigorous head-nodding in me. We’ve both come to the same conclusions and these points matter because they’re at the heart of why the UK Government wants to update our parental leave legislation.
Both Duncan and I believe there needs to be a portion of parental leave set aside exclusively for fathers – what’s termed an ‘individual right.’ For example, three months for the mother, three months for the father and three months that can be taken by either parent. Research shows that across Europe, where parental leave can be wholly taken by the mother, parental leave taken by fathers remains very low.[iv]
“There needs to be individual entitlement, but this is then depicted in our politics as social engineering. But it isn’t – it is an expectation that fathers will take an individual responsibility, not sub-contracted from the mother as it is now, where the mother gives her lead to him like she is the great mother figure where she dishes out her entitlement to other people. That embodies the idea that it is her responsibility. Individual entitlement is often presented as social engineering, but it isn’t: you don’t have to take it,” says Fisher.
Duncan goes on to passionately make the case for why the ‘use it or lose it’ approach to fathers’ entitlement doesn’t stack up: “The argument that ‘use it or lose it’ is not fair on mothers and that they should get it if the father doesn’t want it, perpetuates the problems women experience in their careers after becoming a parent. It’s back to the old thing that the father is just optional. I think an equal expectation is profoundly needed. We need strong norm setting public information campaigns, which is what other countries do, to sell and brand the image of men with babies. Currently the ultimate expectation in our society is in every conceivable way – from maternity services to policy – that babies are a woman’s business.”
So if legislation alone isn’t going to change the status quo, it’s in employers’ interests to help shape a new culture. Employers who embrace flexible working, who move toward an ‘output culture’ where employees are trusted to deliver at work whilst simultaneously being encouraged to have a rich life beyond it (regardless of whether they are parents) are reaping benefits. Expecting parents to spend time with their kids throughout the week shaping playdough, building camps and creating Lego cars for Barbie could be part of the strategy for bolstering a business’ bottom line – read how creative hobbies boost job performance.
Flexible working for fathers better than talent loss
Jon’s 4 ½ month paternity leave triggered conversations about flexible working that had previously been alien to his firm. “The APL really shaped what my wife and I were missing at home and made us question how we could make two full time jobs work with three children. I decided to resign after the leave which was met with a request to trial home-working on reduced hours. The firm was already losing a member of the team so to lose me as well would have been challenging.” Jon’s firm has since gone on to widen flexible working to other members of the team, which is proving beneficial.
Employers can help hang onto men who want to be active fathers by getting the tone right from the moment the baby is born.
Five ways employers can support new fathers
- Shape a culture that supports parents – both male and female
One of the Government’s key objectives in introducing shared parental leave is to reduce the penalty suffered by women (financial and career prospects) as a result of taking long periods out of the workplace. If men feel there’s a stigma attached to taking time out to take care of his children, they won’t do it, and that objective won’t be met. If you’re an organisation who is set on increasing female participation at the very top of your business, normalising men being active parents is going to be important. “I suspect there’s a concern in men’s minds that they may be viewed as ‘strange, unusual or different if they take additional paternity leave. I took it out of necessity,” says one father and senior City figure, Robert (not his real name). It starts by a line manager asking a father-to-be all the same questions – and showering the same level of interest – on him as he or she would on an expectant mother. Conversations like this change a culture.
- Encourage fathers to take the full two weeks of ordinary paternity leave (OPL)
Have discussions about temporary or ongoing flexible working too, even before baby is born. Give new fathers slack around office-bound hours and their performance in the first months – sleep deprivation is likely if they’re egalitarian at home and this will take it’s toll. Offer reassurance.
- Maintain contact whilst your employee is on additional paternity leave (APL)
“There wasn’t enough contact. I had three people who offered to be my buddy and I didn’t want to dissuade them so said yes. The support was there for the first month and then it disappeared. I think people think ‘that’s that, leave him to it’.”
- Formulate a joint plan for the transition back into work after APL
“It’s really something how quickly the world moves on in just three months. The organisation is not great at equipping people when they come back. The natural inclination is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and my return felt like an after thought; I had to drive it. There was an expectation that I’d ‘slip back in’ but career momentum gets broken by having three months out. There should have been a contracting meeting on day one of my return, with my line manager, to help me re-integrate and get clear on what both our expectations were of each other. It’s made me 100 times more empathetic to maternity leavers.”
- Consider the competitive advantage of generous paternity support
Robert says “There’s a really practical aspect which is ‘can a family afford it? There’s a total lack of understanding of APL and until you solve the financial problem, people are not going to take it. It essentially means taking money out of savings to do it. It could be competitive advantage for organisations to offer generous paternity leave and there could be a fairness aspect to it if they have a scheme which provides more generous maternity packages than statutory.”
Ordinary and Additional Paternity Leave in a nutshell
Ordinary Paternity Leave refers to the 1-2 weeks a father, husband/partner of a mother or child’s adopter can take with 56 days of the birth (different rules for a adoption). Full details: https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview
Employees can request Statutory Additional Paternity Leave (APL) and Pay (ASPP) if their partner returns to work before the end of their maternity (or adoption) leave or pay period. Leave and pay can only start 20 weeks after the birth, adoption or child’s arrival in the UK (overseas adoptions). Leave stops on the child’s first birthday or 52 weeks after the child starts living with the adopter. Pay stops when the mother’s maternity or adoption pay would have ended. Note: Statutory Maternity Leave is divided into ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ (first 26 weeks) and ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ (second 26 weeks) but Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is only payable for 39 weeks. The rate of SMP and ASPP are currently the same – £136.78 per week or 90% of gross average weekly earnings (whoever is lower).
This will change later in the year when shared parental leave legislation comes into force (October 2014), allowing parents and adopters to share the care of their child following its birth or placement from April 2015.
How to calculate and recover Additional Statutory Paternity Pay (link to HMRC website) – http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/payerti/employee/statutory-pay/aspp-calc.htm
Employers’ guide to Additional Statutory Paternity Leave (link to HMRC website) –https://www.gov.uk/employers-additional-paternity-pay-leave
[i] Pruett, K. (2000). Father-need. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
[ii] Lamb, M. E. (2002). Infant-father attachments and their impact on child development. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 93-118).
[iii] Mosley, J., & Thompson, E. (1995). Fathering behavior and child outcomes: The role of race and poverty. In W. Marsiglio (Ed.), Fatherhood: Contemporary theory, research, and social policy (pp. 148-165). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[iv] See Bruning, G. and Plantenga, J. (1999). Parental leave and equal opportunities: experiences in eight European countries. Journal of European Social Policy, 9, 195-210.