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Paternity Leave and Beyond: Tips for Supporting Working Dads

Businessman with his son on hands having video chat

Quick look: Paternity leave benefits parents, children, and businesses alike. However, only 32% of U.S. employees have access to paid leave through their employers, and under 5% of new dads take off two or more weeks following the birth, adoption, or fostering of their child. Explore the latest fatherhood trends and how offering paternity leave and an adequate work-life balance can help small businesses stand out from their competition.

Fathers make up a large portion of the workforce. In fact, 93.4% of men with children under 18 participate in the U.S. labor force—and how they parent and want to work is changing.

Dads are more involved than ever in their children’s lives, signaling a need for employers to demonstrate they understand and support familial responsibilities. This Father’s Day, learn how small businesses can best attract and retain dads by providing paternity leave, a welcoming culture, and a flexible work-life balance.

Evolving fatherhood statistics

Research shows fathers spend more time with their children than in years past. The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) reports that American fathers currently spend 7.8 hours each week caring for their children at home, an approximate 1-hour increase from two decades ago. IFS also found a moderate decrease in children living in father-absent households.

Additionally, Pew Research revealed that most Americans believe it’s best for children when their mothers and fathers focus equally on work and childcare responsibilities. Other Pew Research data states that 85% of dads with children under 18 say being a parent is the most or one of the most important aspects of who they are.

Paternity leave in the U.S.

It’s impossible to discuss supporting working dads without considering parental leave. While most eligible women in the U.S. take maternity leave, less than 5% of fathers take off for two or more weeks.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)* requires companies to offer new parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care. However, FMLA only applies to public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees, so it’s up to many employers to take these policies into their own hands.

Although offering paternity leave has short-term costs, it can provide long-standing business benefits by enhancing talent acquisition, reducing turnover, boosting employee engagement, and more. Organizations that provide this perk stand out in the hiring market.

Just 32% of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and 30% of working dads didn’t take any paternity leave because it wasn’t available or feasible for them to do so. These figures demonstrate paternity leave’s potential to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) differentiate and boost morale.

*Paid family leave policies vary significantly from state to state. We encourage you to check your local laws and regulations to understand the specific provisions that apply to your situation. This blog provides general information and should not be taken as legal advice.

Why paternity leave is important

There are many advantages of paternity leave for children and their parents. The leave can reduce stress, fatigue, and depression for both fathers and their partners. This is especially important when you consider that 7-9% of new dads and 1 in 7 new moms experience postpartum depression.

Additionally, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, more involved dads tend to:

  • Maintain better physical and mental health
  • Be more active in their communities and civic groups
  • Adopt a healthier model of masculinity
  • Hold stable jobs and more effectively manage and save money

Paternity leave also positively impacts children. Studies show that fathers who take two or more weeks off after a baby’s birth are more involved in the child’s direct care nine months later than those who didn’t take leave. Additionally, children with involved fathers are less likely to experience negative outcomes like emotional and behavioral problems, poor school performance, and juvenile incarceration.

Working women benefit from men taking paternity leave, too. When only moms take leave, it reinforces the perception that they should be the primary caregivers, which can negatively affect their earnings. Mothers who work full-time are paid an average of 74 cents for every dollar a father earns. However, for every month a dad takes paternity leave, moms’ incomes increase by approximately 7%.

Paternity leave also contributes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Despite its far-reaching benefits, paternity leave in the U.S. is limited and tends to be more accessible to higher-income families. SMBs can help combat this inequality by enacting paid paternity leave policies.

Encouraging fathers to take leave

Before families and employers can experience the benefits of paternity leave, dads at work must feel welcome and encouraged to take it—and there is plenty of room for improvement. According to the World Economic Forum, one-fifth of fathers fear taking paternity leave would negatively affect their career opportunities.

Here are some ways employers can reduce the stigma and empower men to feel comfortable using their permitted time.

Change the conversation

Employers should explain that paternity leave is available, discuss how to use it, and emphasize that they expect men to take it. This makes the leave feel like it’s assumed rather than a special request.

One simple way to do this is for managers to ask how eligible employees would like to use their paternity leave rather than assuming they will only take off a few days following the birth or placement of a child. Asking the how, not the if, can make the situation more comfortable for working dads and encourage them to utilize the available benefit.

Encourage leadership to speak up

Cultural changes start at the top. Leadership should reinforce the message that taking paternity leave is important and expected throughout every level of the organization. SMB leaders can actively communicate their support for leave policies and reiterate to employees that they’re expected to take the time.

Paternity leave contributes to growing families’ health and wellness and paves the path for dads to bring their best selves back to work. McKinsey found that dads felt more motivated after taking paternity leave and considered staying with their organizations longer after returning. They also claimed to be more productive and better at prioritizing their time after taking leave.

Get managers on board

While the messaging surrounding paternity leave trickles down from top leadership, many of the conversations surrounding leave take place between employees and their managers. As such, employers should advise managers to encourage all expectant parents to take their full leave and discuss future career growth plans with them before they go.

To prepare for an employee to take leave, employers can request 30 days’ notice so that team managers and the human resources (HR) department have time to confirm adequate coverage. A sample paid parental leave policy is accessible through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Alternatively, employers may find that offloading policy concerns to a professional employer organization (PEO) makes the most sense.

Offer flexibility

A flexible work-life balance is important to everyone, including working dads. Business leaders may consider offering new fathers a flexible schedule whenever possible, enabling them to better care for their children, help their partners, or tend to their own well-being and mental health.

Employers can continue to provide flexibility beyond the child’s infancy by offering school activity time off. This allows employees to take time off work to participate in their children’s childcare activities, like parent-teacher conferences, holiday events, classroom activities, and graduations.

Please note that workplace flexibility and competitive employee benefits should be fair and equitable across all employees, and mental health issues like burnout can impact all workers. We do not wish to erase those experiences or realities by focusing just on working fathers.

PEO: Your parental leave policy partner

When you lead a small business, you have a lot going on. Growth is top of mind, and you want to offer the most competitive benefits to your employees, but let’s face it: that takes a lot of time and research. That’s where a PEO, like ExtensisHR, comes into play.

The HR experts at a PEO can help you craft compliant parental leave and school activity time off policies and navigate federal and state-specific leave requirements. ExtensisHR also has an easy-to-use DEI Dashboard that enables SMB leaders to examine data on pay equity, salary trends, employee turnover, promotions, and more.

Supporting working dads benefits families, fights the gender wage gap, and helps businesses attract and retain talent. Contact ExtensisHR today for more tips about how your organization can best accommodate fathers.

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