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Paternity leave - the good, the bad and the ugly

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27th Oct 2009
Editor, HRzone.co.uk Sift Media
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New government draft regulations promise more flexibility for parents when it comes to caring for a newborn, but is the pressure to perform at work preventing paternity leave - and your organisation - being a success?

When it comes to paternity rights there seem to have been three schools of thought: the employers who recognise the benefits to family and business, those who offer some provision but create a culture which leaves fathers unwilling to take the leave and those which avoid providing anything but the very minimum required.

With the new plans, maternity leave may become transferrable, enabling mothers of children due on or after 3 April 2011 to transfer up to six months of their maternity leave to the father when they return to work. This may or not be paid leave, depending upon the amount of statutory maternity pay already received by the mother. Similar rules will apply to adoptive parents. The proposed new rules are due to come into force from next April. However, the draft regulations do not affect the maternity or adoption pay period and there are no plans to increase this period to 12 months, in line with the period of leave, as was promised previously.

From a legal perspective this may sound like hard work for employers, but Audrey Williams, partner at Eversheds explained: "Many will be relieved that the current proposals require no obligation for a father’s employer to look beyond the self-certification of leave provided by the parents. However, should employers choose to verify birth/adoption or the mother’s return to work, the employee is obliged to provide that information."
This news may be welcome to some employees who have wanted more flexible paternity arrangements, but it does not address the other issue of fathers not taking up paternity leave.

Lisa Wynn, founder and CEO of Coaching for Dads pointed out: "It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee who has taken statutory paternity leave. However, this is still a common concern for men, and it makes many reluctant to take paternity leave. I think that employers can actually benefit from making the paternity leave legislation work for them. By asking employees when they would like to take their leave and encouraging them to do so, will make new fathers feel happier, which in turn will increase attention and productivity in the workplace."

Audrey Williams added: "The Government estimates that between 10 and 20,000 fathers may take up the right to additional paternity leave each year but it will be interesting to see whether this transpires. It will also be interesting to see whether, over time and coupled with other sociological shifts in attitudes to equality, these changes will engender more far reaching consequences in the work place. Might employers eventually opt to extend enhanced maternity pay schemes to fathers, for example, as a recruitment incentive or job perk?"

It seems clear that there is still pressure felt by fathers to perform and provide at work and at home - this is a larger issue, but within the workplace HR can have a hand in preventing the attitude found by Stephen Bevan, Managing Director of the Work Foundation: "We interviewed a very senior manager in one of the financial sector organisations and we asked him 'Does your company have paternity leave?' and he said, proudly, 'Yes, we do. We have very clear policies and very generous policies and we're proud of them. And then we said 'Do you monitor what proportion of your workforce take up the opportunity to take partenity leave?' And he said: 'Yes, because it helps us weed out the losers.'"

Of course this is not the culture in all organisations, but there are benefits to be had by providing paternity cover above and beyond the minimum, not least for the sake of employee engagement. Lisa Wynn added: "With the old ‘job for life’ now firmly in the past, employee loyalty should be top of an employer’s agenda. Encouraging fathers to take their paternity leave and promoting it in a positive light is a great way to retain talented employees and build the employer brand."

Wider family and societial benefits should not be overlooked either, says Chris Parke, MD of Talking Talent: “In practice, there are many benefits to men taking a more active role at the beginning of their child’s life; generally we see improvements in family relationships as both parents are there to support each other through caring for a newborn and fathers feel more included in caring for the child. By the time they return to work, they will be more comfortable dealing with things like having less sleep, and more able and confident in minimising the impact on their work. The Scandinavian model for paternity leave shows the positive effects of this on the performance of new fathers at work.”

There have been calls for 'role models' within business to encourage fathers to take their paternity leave, and for businesses to be more family-friendly, with flexible working a key aspect. But, as highlighted by the EHRC, many men aren’t stepping up to the role model challenge for fear of negative impact on their career and concerns that rates of paternity pay are not financially viable. Where campaigns to increase maternity and paternity pay continue to rage on, businesses could be stepping in and encouraging men to take leave while assuring them their career progression won’t be affected. This will also help to ensure that talented employees remain engaged and working at their best.
 
“Recent changes to paternity legislation are a step toward helping working parents share parental leave in the most appropriate way for their family, whether this means it is shared equally or one partner returns to work sooner. Mothers and fathers should feel as though they can make a decision that suits their situation – rather than bowing down to organisational and recessional pressure as we are currently hearing about. On the whole, these steps are essential in addressing equality and diversity in the workplace," concluded Chris Parke, MD of Talking Talent.

Many families will find an increase in flexibility of maternity and paternity leave will give them the leeway to better manage their working and family lives. If your organisation provides this it is more likely to hold on to key talent and promote engagement through the recession and beyond.

The Government draft paper is open to consultation. To view, download the PDF here.
 

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By DeborahM
28th Oct 2009 20:01

Fab article - I can't help but think though that the reason men are reluctant to take their paternity leave is because over the years they may have witnessed how this has impacted on women's careers!!

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By Charlie Duff
29th Oct 2009 11:52

When speaking to Stephen, his run-down of the problems overed exactly the same issues women have been dealing with for years - the need to bond and spend time with children, against a need to provide for them, societial pressures and so on.

Apparently in Scandanavia if you have a family and spend every waking hour working you're considered irresponsible: the societal benefits of raising children seen as far more valuable than your input in a particular organisation. This must be incredibly hard on people like politicians or CEOs, or people who just love work. If anyone knows more about it I'd welcome their input.

It's hard to know what the balance is, but greater flexibility may well help parents work it out. I have spoken to fathers who wish they could break up their leave in some way rather than taking a block at once - it would be interesting to know how mothers feel about paternity leave at the moment and how it could change to support them better.

 

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