Soon-to-be dads need little reminding that their lives are about to be full of all sorts of new sights, sounds, and even smells. Yet one new experience they might not be expecting is a nudge from their employer to take advantage of paternity leave.
Some new dads wryly regard paternity leave as some sort of consolation prize, while others may worry they are being taken out of the starting lineup because their manager anticipates a slip in performance. Some may even suspect they are getting benched as punishment for being a drag on the organization.
New dads should be more welcoming of the offer. After all, men have been advocating for paid paternity leave for years. Research consistently shows taking paternity leave to be win-win across the board for new parents, families, and employers.
However, the numbers also show men are disinclined to take paternity leave, primarily out of fear of career disruption. This is precisely the burden women have assumed for decades. The consequence for taking time off to care for a newborn can often be a wage penalty that lasts the duration of your career. Women’s childbearing years coincide with a time of very high human capital accumulation, which gets interrupted by a temporary absence from the workforce. As a result, women miss out on crucial opportunities to get into leadership pipelines or on accelerated career advancement tracks.
It doesn’t help that men who might be receptive to taking paternity leave aren’t seeing their company leaders take advantage of it, even after urging their own employees to do so.
Nevertheless, many companies remain fervent in their desires for new fathers to take paternity leave. Much of the resistance to taking leave could be overcome if companies were more transparent about their reasons for encouraging participation. In particular, companies need to make it clear they have no hidden agendas and that their motivations are more practically aimed at addressing persistent human capital management issues.
Let’s take a closer look at why companies want new fathers to take paternity leave.
Family Values Add Value to the Work Family
Millennials are now the largest age cohort in the workforce. As a result, they exert a huge influence on how the workplace functions. Millennials highly value both healthy work/life balances and equity in parenting roles. Paternity leave addresses both of these values directly, meaning millennials are likely to choose to work for companies that offer this benefit over those that don’t.
For organizations specifically aiming to appeal to millennial talent, new fathers regularly taking paternity leave is a strong and visible affirmation that company and employee values align. The result is a company culture that adapts naturally, according to fundamental shared values. Managers who take paternity leave also become leaders by example, promoting a thriving company culture through their deeds rather than words.
The Family That Stays Together Pays Off Together
Parenthood changes people in ways they never thought possible. New parents often have no choice but to manage their time, money, and tasks more effectively. While time off from work to bond with a newborn is truly a gift, most parents also find themselves craving adult company after a few months.
Those might be the biggest reasons why instead of losing productivity upon returning from parental leave, new parents actually become more productive. What’s more, those workers who receive parental leave are more likely to stay with their companies.
In short, there are major benefits and very little risk for both the employer and employee when men take paternity leave. Both the workplace and home end up healthier. For recruiters and HR managers, paid parental leave presents a powerful incentive for attracting and retaining high-quality, consistently productive talent.
Charity Begins in the Home, and So Does Equality
While paternity leave can help solve tough HR challenges, the biggest reason why more men should take it has to do with human rights. To get straight to the point, paternity leave offers perhaps the most pragmatic way to bring about gender pay equality in our economy.
As mentioned earlier, there is evidence to suggest the gender pay gap is, at least in part, a consequence of women taking maternity leave, which interrupts human capital accumulation and lowers lifetime earning power. When men take paternity leave, both male and female workers are afforded equal access to opportunities for human capital accumulation and career advancement.
The key, however, is that men need to participate. The unfortunate fact is that when any work becomes feminized, it also gets devalued. Men who take paternity leave raise the value of the work they and their spouses do together in their homes, leading to a fairer valuation of caretaking work and less devaluation of the professionals who take time out of their careers to perform it.