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The Best Ways to Support Working Dads

Working dad holding two children

Quick look: Over 90% of fathers with children under the age of 18 work – yet 20% of them fear their careers would be jeopardized by taking paternity leave. Supporting working dads not only contributes to the wellbeing of their families but can help fight the gender wage gap and assist businesses in attracting and retaining talent. Here’s what changes business leaders can make to best support the fathers in their organization.

Fathers make up a significant portion of the workforce. In fact, 92.5% of men with children under the age of 18 participate in the U.S. labor force. At the same time, the way these dads are parenting – and the way they want to work – is changing.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many facets of family life for caregivers, and as the war for talent continues to rage on, it’s pertinent that employers optimize their workplace for working dads. This Father’s Day, we’re discussing how small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can best support fathers in this new age by providing family leave, flexibility, and a welcoming culture.

Paternity leave in the U.S.

It’s impossible to discuss supporting working dads without discussing overall parental leave. While nearly all women in the U.S. take maternity leave, less than 5% of fathers take off 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 SMBs to take these policies into their own hands. According to a recent survey from consulting firm Mercer, 40% of U.S. companies offer paid leave to both parents, meaning over half don’t offer any paid paternity leave.

Although there are short-term costs associated with offering paternity leave, in the long run businesses may experience greater employee engagement, loyalty, and productivity. In fact, roughly 1 in 5 men say they would look for a new job if their current one did not have a sufficient paternity leave policy in place.

Gallup reports that nearly half of the U.S. workforce is comprised of Millennials and Generation Z, many of whom wish to grow their family, making paternity leave a must-have offering in this tight labor market. And with 30% of working dads claiming they didn’t take any leave after the birth of their child because it wasn’t available or feasible for them to do so, providing this important benefit is a great way for SMB employers to attract and retain talent.

Why paternity leave is important

Children and their parents experience significant benefits when men take paternity leave. The leave has been shown to have a positive impact on stress, fatigue, and depression for both fathers and their partners. This is especially important when you consider that 10% of new dads and moms experience postpartum depression.

Paternity leave has a long-standing impact on children, as well. Research has shown that even nine years after their fathers took at least two weeks of paternity leave, children feel closer to their dads than children whose fathers didn’t take leave.

Working women also stand to gain something from men taking paternity leave. When only women take leave, it reinforces the perception that they should be the primary caregivers – which in turn negatively affects their earnings. The wage gap widens when women have children but not when men do, and men taking leave means women are more likely to return to work (and earn more when they do).

Making men comfortable to take leave

Before families and employers can experience the benefits that paternity leave can offer, men must first feel welcome to take it – and there is much progress to be made. According to a 2020 study from McKinsey, 20% of men said they feared a career setback if they took leave.

It’s up to employers to reduce the stigma and empower men to feel comfortable using the time that is allocated to them. Here are some ways SMB leaders can do just that.

Change the conversation

Employers should not only explain that paternity leave is available and how to use it but emphasize that the organization expects men to take it. This makes the leave feel like it’s assumed, versus 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 simply 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. The message that taking paternity leave is important and expected must come from leadership and be reinforced throughout every level of the organization. SMB leaders should actively communicate their support for leave policies and reiterate to employees that it’s expected that they take the time.

On top of contributing to the health and wellness of a growing family, paternity leave also paves the path for dads to bring their best selves back to work. The above-mentioned McKinsey study found that dads felt more motivated after taking paternity leave and considered staying with their organizations longer after returning. They also claimed that they became 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 an employee and their manager. 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 require employees to provide 30 days’ notice so that team managers and the HR department have time to confirm adequate coverage. A sample paid parental leave policy, created by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), can be found here – or SMB 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, working dads included. Business leaders should consider allowing new fathers to work a flexible schedule, when possible, so that they can more easily take care of their children, help their partners, or tend to their own wellbeing and mental health.

SMB leaders can continue to provide flexibility beyond the child’s infancy by offering school activity time off, in which employees can take time off work to participate in their children’s’ childcare activities. Examples of these events include parent-teacher conferences, holiday events, classroom activities, graduations, and more.

Partner up to provide the best policies

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 human resources experts at a PEO can help you craft compliant parental leave and school activity time off policies, as well as navigate federal and state-specific FMLA 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 to discover how your organization can best accommodate fathers.

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