Business Entrepreneur

6 steps to shedding the stigma of paternity leave

duschene on paternity leave

Employers can retain high quality employees and boost productivity with a modernized family leave program.

duschene on paternity leave

Paternity leave at your company

Paternity leave is not a new concept, but one that is just now gaining traction in recognition of the importance of fatherhood and the role a father plays in a child’s life. The only problem is that many companies, particularly small businesses, continue to offer maternity leave with no offer of paternity leave for the male counterpart.

Some business leaders don’t consider paternity leave to be important, and others simply don’t want to pay for it (and truthfully, many cannot afford it). There are a growing number that do, however, offer paternity leave and it is actually a positive business decision, not just for ethical reasons, but to the bottom line.

Chris Duchesne, VP of Care.com’s Employer Program, Global Workplace Solutions, says that “Study after study has shown that companies that adopt paternity leave policies have higher employee engagement and retention, higher employee productivity, and lower rates of absenteeism.”

“Dual working families make up 70 percent of the labor force in the U.S. today,” Duchesne added, “and this new generation of workers (both men and women) have different expectations of fathers. This includes taking paternity leave and sharing childcare responsibilities.”

Duchesne is a father of three small children, and a well known HR veteran who oversees the Global Workplace Solutions program that provides customized, cost-effective programs that make Care.com’s suite of services available to institutional and corporate clients, their employees and families. Clients include Yahoo!, Clif Bar & Company, Facebook, Honest Tea, iRobot, Jamba Juice, Northwestern University, eBay and LinkedIn.

Changing expectations in the workplace

As Duchesne notes, the workplace and workforce are evolving, and as our culture softens their views on gender roles, fatherhood is finally being acknowledged as critical.

So how do employers help shed the stigma when implementing modern family leave policies? Duchesne shares six important steps in his own words below:

1. Create a Culture of Permission

Employees should not fear peer or career retribution for taking paternity leave. Some companies offer great programs but don’t support them with a company culture that actually encourages employees to take the time off. If senior management doesn’t set an example by partaking in benefits programs, there is a perceived standard set that while the benefit is available, it’s not really acceptable for employees to utilize it.

If management and HR want to encourage employees to take advantage of work-life policies and benefits, like paternity leave, they must first make sure they are sending out an unambiguous, positive message to that effect. Employees recognize when what the organization says and what the organization does is different. They react to those cues of what’s really encouraged and what’s really accepted.

iRobot, a Care.com Workplace Solutions client, practices what they preach. Their senior leadership team makes it a point to adhere to Summer Fridays (a practice from Memorial Day to Labor Day where their office closes at noon on Fridays) so that the employees feel comfortable taking the time off too.

2. Know Your Employees

Stay in touch with your employees and know what life phase they are in. This will help determine what type of paternity leave program is appropriate for your organization. It’s also a good idea to survey employees on their interest in paternity leave to find out what type of a program would be beneficial to them.

For example, millennials (who will make up 36 percent of the workforce in 2014) place great value on companies that acknowledge the whole employee, not just the worker. When these employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to accept a new job, stay with a current job, report increased job satisfaction and miss less work once their leave is over.

3. Foster Flexibility

A cookie cutter paternity leave plan is not likely to work for all employees. Leading companies are flexible on when fathers can use their leave – it doesn’t have to be all at once and doesn’t have to be right when the child is born. Ernst & Young offers two weeks and extends the benefit to up to six weeks for fathers that are the primary caregiver. That flexibility allows families to use the leave in the way that’s most valuable and meaningful to them.

4. Know Your Industry

Paternity leave practices can vary greatly by industry. For example, companies in the tech industry, like Yahoo, are known for being on the forefront when it comes to offering generous family leave programs. In order to attract and retain top talent, it’s important to know what your competitors are offering.

5. Implement a Buddy Program

When employees take paternity leave, implement a buddy program where one of their co-workers will keep them updated on developments with the company and with clients while they are out. This will make the employee’s transition back into the workplace much smoother.

6. Take it a Step Further

Allowing employees time off at the birth or adoption of a new baby is something all employers should be doing. Leading companies are taking it a step further and offering paid time off, as many parents simply can’t take leave because they can’t afford to go weeks without pay. Some companies, like Yahoo, are going even further and offering an additional stipend to new parents to offset expenses on top of paid time off. Perhaps your company’s budget will not allow for that, so get creative and figure out a way to make your family leave programs actually work for your employees.

The takeaway

Times are changing, and with Duchesne’s advice outlined above, any sized company can modernize family leave policies and do a better job of retaining devoted, productive employees.

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