Currently, in the UK, eligible new fathers can take one or two weeks of paternity leave after the birth/adoption of their child.
Since 2015, there has also been the option for new fathers to take part in a Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme, allowing eligible parents to share thirty-seven weeks of pay and fifty weeks of leave (To qualify for parental leave, you need to be employed by your current employer for at least 26 weeks. To qualify for paid leave, you need to earn over £123 per week before tax).
The UK’s 2015 SPL scheme was introduced to give fathers the chance to b
ond with their children and be more hands-on during the early days. It also helps narrow the gender gaps in the workplace, as it takes away the assumption that mothers are the primary caregivers and fathers the primary breadwinners.
Nevertheless, according to The Trades Union Congress, only one-fifth of fathers are taking any parental leave. This low statistic has raised two questions, which we will be discussing in our blog:
Why are new fathers not taking the leave offered to them?
Can workplaces do more to promote paternal leave?
Why Fathers aren’t Taking Paternity Leave:
In the UK, Statutory paternity leave only came into existence in 2003, meaning that before that, only mothers had the right to paid leave. Unfortunately, even though new rights have been introduced since 2003, such as the SPL scheme, there is still the stigma that child caregiving is primarily the mother’s role. As a result, expectant fathers can sometimes experience sexism when they choose to take their parental leave. The reason behind this is because it is believed that they are stepping into a role which is stereotypically “feminine”. According to Emma Jacob’s article in the Financial Times, “Paternity Leave in Finance: ‘The more Men do it, the less of a big deal it becomes’”, it’s common for male employees to be hesitant about taking paternal leave due the fear that they will be mocked by their colleagues and accused that they are using it as an excuse to have a break from work.
By taking time off work, whether that be two weeks or twenty-five weeks, some expectant fathers may be concerned that it will affect their progress and perhaps put a pause on any promotions or bonuses that they have been working towards. In addition, depending on how fast-paced the role is, there could be some anxiety surrounding what they will miss out on and how long it will take to catch up once they get back into the job.
Unfortunately, not every father can afford to take paternity leave, especially during the current economic climate and the impact of COVID-19. Presently, the statutory pay is either 90% of your earnings or £178.40 per week, a sum which is below the average weekly living wage. In addition, some fathers may not want to take SPL, as this halves the mother’s maternity leave.
Not all expectant fathers are notified by their workplace of their rights and what is on offer to them, therefore they do not take the time that they deserve.
They may not want to take time away from work because they don’t want to let their clients down.
How can Companies Encourage New Fathers to Take Paternity Leave?
Employees need to inform their manager that they will be taking paternity leave at least fifteen weeks before the due date of the baby/adoption. Therefore, managers must use good communication to notify employees of their entitlement before this deadline. As a result, expectant fathers will have the opportunity to weigh their options and be informed of any company schemes.
In addition, communication doesn’t need to stop once the employee goes on leave. To help fathers get back onto their feet, managers could offer to keep their employees updated on any changes during their leave. Therefore, when fathers arrive back, they won’t feel overwhelmed or left behind.
Having a Role Model
Male employees need more role models in the workplace who can normalise paternal leave and show expectant fathers that it is okay to take time off for their families.
Offering policies and work schemes is not always enough to make a difference, especially if employees don’t feel they can take advantage of them.
Actions are what make a difference. If flexibility towards family life is demonstrated by employees in senior positions, the company is showing future fathers that they encourage parental leave, and that it won’t hurt their careers to take advantage of it.