The benefits for taking leave
Fathers taking parental leave isn’t just about having a second set of hands to change nappies, the benefits radiate beyond the family unit.
“Fathers taking parental leave is the key to challenging norms and breaking stereotypes as it sets up the family right from the start,” says Dr Bredehoeft.
“We know from research that fathers who take leave are more engaged in family life, they don’t buy into the stereotype that a child needs their mother more than their father, or that men should be strong.
“Having access to parental leave has a lot of health and wellbeing benefits for the family.”
A 2014 Swiss study found that gender neutral parental leave enabled a more equal division of work – both employed paid work and unpaid work in the home – between women and men by fostering parental involvement in the care of the child.
A study conducted by McKinsey in 2021 found that 90 per cent of surveyed fathers who took paid parental leave noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partners.
Fathers weren’t only able to establish a special bond with their child, but they reported parenting together was instrumental in shaping family dynamics and setting up a foundation for a more equal distribution of childcare responsibilities, not only at the start, but in future years.
Fathers also said their leave helped support their partner’s career goals and minimised any negative impact on their partner’s career progression.
“For us as a society, when men take parental leave the benefits extend beyond the family unit,” adds Dr Bredehoeft.
“Women are more likely to return to work, which increases the female workforce and participation which is beneficial for the economy.”
The McKinsey study also found fathers who took parental leave reported an increase in total household financial wellbeing in the long term.
A 2016 Ernst Young study found that employers who offered paid parental leave had employees who displayed higher morale and were more productive.
“There are also studies show that having fathers at home reduces infant mortality rates, increases breast feeding rates and improves health outcomes for mothers and children,” adds Dr Bredehoeft.
Why aren’t more fathers taking parental leave?
With the numerous benefits and the increasing availability of gender-neutral leave, there is only one question: why aren’t more men taking up parental leave?
“It’s related to the stereotypes and the norms of society,” explains Dr Bredehoeft.
“In some cases, there are organisations who offer gender neutral paid parental leave, but no men have used it, so it’s daunting being the first and breaking that established culture.
“In addition, they may fear they are more likely to miss out on a promotion or career opportunity, which we see happen to women who take parental leave.
“We really need role models who take parental leave and shift the culture.”
So, how to be the first?
Dr Bredehoeft recommends employees put forward a business case to their employers on the documented benefits of taking parental leave.
“Paid parental leave is evidenced as one of the key mechanisms for the retention and attraction of staff,” she says.
“Employees can highlight that it is an investment, not a cost, to the business.”
She adds that it’s also an opportunity for the development and training of other employees in the organisation who can take up greater responsibility while the employee is on parental leave.
“Employees also need to remember that organisations who offer parental leave are supporting their staff to go on parental leave and therefore, shouldn’t hesitate to use that employee benefit.”
WGEA has a comprehensive dataset which details the policies of organisations with 100 plus employees, including their parental leave policy, so employers can benchmark themselves and employees can search for organisations with policies best suited to their needs.