Is Better Paternity Leave Part of The Solution to Burned Out Working Mothers?

By Naz Beheshti August 3, 2022
Is Better Paternity Leave Part of The Solution to Burned Out Working Mothers?

​Last year, I wrote about the wake-up call that was the 2021 McKinsey Women in the Workplace report. The report found that working women were dealing with historically high burnout levels and a growing gender gap in burnout rates. Already, women had left the workforce in high numbers during the pandemic, threatening decades of progress. Even with some of those women returning to work, an ongoing childcare squeeze has left working mothers overwhelmed and stressed. 

To make matters worse, women opting for remote work risk becoming second-class employees and missing out on promotions and choice assignments. Is it any wonder that one in four women is considering either downshifting their career or leaving the workforce entirely? 

Such a state of affairs constitutes "an emergency for corporate America." A new McKinsey survey of new fathers and their partners suggests that expanded support for paternity leave could go a long way toward addressing the problem of burned-out working mothers. Moreover, normalizing paternity leave is a win-win for everyone involved: improving employees' lives at home, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. 

Paternity leave and employee well-being 
Greater support for paternity leave is not just an equity issue and the right thing to do. It is a substantial investment in employee well-being—for both men and women. 

An overwhelming majority (virtually 100%) of men surveyed found the experience of taking paternity leave to be a positive one, were glad they had done it and would do it again. And 90% said it improved their relationship with their partner. One of the pandemic's lessons is that what happens at home is connected to what happens at work. Happier employees are more productive employees. 

The survey and recent studies also indicate that paternity leave has long-term benefits for couples, translating into improved future equality in sharing household responsibilities. That kind of equity means less burnout for working mothers. Indeed, while one study found that paternity leave resulted in increased life satisfaction and well-being for both men and women, the positive effect was even stronger for women. 

Greater equity and paternal involvement in childcare have the potential to improve the well-being of mothers in other ways as well. Studies show that a lack of paternal involvement is a significant predictor of the likelihood of postpartum depression. A Swedish law allowing fathers to take up to 30 days of leave was found to lead to a 26% decrease in anti-anxiety prescriptions for the mother and a 14% reduction in hospitalizations or visits to a specialist. 

Leveling the playing field for working mothers 
Supporting paternity leave also helps women in the workplace. Mothers can return to the workforce earlier with greater paternal involvement, at least somewhat offsetting the so-called "motherhood penalty." 

Some of the benefits of paternity leave for women are quite measurable. McKinsey cites research on roughly 9,000 families tracking parental pay over five years, starting one year before childbirth and extending to when the child was four. The findings were more than convincing: For each month the father spent on parental leave, the mother's income rose 7%. 

While the research is still inconclusive, other studies also seem to indicate that paid paternal leave has the potential to contribute significantly toward closing the gender pay gap. It is likely no accident that the countries with the smallest gender pay gaps also have some of the most generous parental leave policies for both women and men. 

Attracting and retaining top talent 
More progressive paternal leave policies and improved overall support for childcare can also play a role in helping companies win an increasingly tight battle for talent. The Great Resignation was partly driven by childcare woes, with 45% of working mothers who left the workforce saying that childcare was a significant reason. 

The reverse holds as well: Companies that step up and take the lead in offering a range of childcare options and in supporting paternal leave will increasingly stand out from the rest of the pack as attractive places to work. According to McKinsey, 83% of women and 81% of men say childcare benefits are a significant factor in deciding whether to stay with their current employer or explore other options. 

And the men in the paternity leave survey reported that the experience left them feeling more energized as employees. Many said they were returning to work feeling more motivated and more likely to remain longer with their current organization. In short, paternity leave gave a "longevity boost" to their careers. 

The evidence is clear: When men take paternity leave, women benefit.   

  

This article was written by Naz Beheshti from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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