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How Paternity Leave Is Gaining Traction

5 questions with Sadie Funk, national director of Best Place for Working Parents

closeup of a dad holding a newborn baby

The U.S. is one of only a few industrialized countries with no federal paid parental leave, and employers that have made moves for their workforces have historically focused on paid leave for new mothers.

But that focus often leaves fathers out of receiving paid time off to spend with their new child—while also putting the bulk of child care responsibilities on the shoulders of mothers, which contributes to working mothers experiencing more challenges with pay and career advancement.

Over the last several years, though, more employers have begun offering paid leave to fathers.

“Employers are making tangible progress in addressing support for working parents, with a noticeable increase in the provision of paternity leave,” said Sadie Funk, national director of Best Place for Working Parents, a Fort Worth, Texas-based organization that recognizes employers that support working parents. The Best Place for Working Parents network includes more than 1,350 designated companies that have shown a commitment to creating a family-friendly and business-friendly work environment.

Other employers are focusing on gender-equal parental-leave policies. Financial services firm Citi, for instance, just announced that all Citi employees in the U.S. and Puerto Rico will receive 16 weeks of paid parental leave, with birthing parents receiving an additional paid recovery time of up to eight weeks, to total up to 24 weeks. Insurance company QBE North America also recently enhanced its paid parental leave, now providing 12 weeks to all parents on a gender-equal basis.

Making sure both mothers and fathers have parental leave “not only supports employee well-being but also enhances overall business performance, making companies more competitive in the labor market,” Funk said. “Fathers, who are increasingly seeking more time with family, represent a growing segment of the workforce that values such benefits.”

Ahead of Father’s Day, SHRM Online spoke to Funk about the state of paid paternity leave and support for working fathers.

SHRM Online: Tell me about the state of paid paternity-leave policies. Are we seeing movement?

Funk: Paternity leave is gaining traction as companies recognize its impact. At Best Place for Working Parents, we have seen a year-over-year uptick in parental leave, including paternity leave, across our network of companies, given the tangible ROI [return on investment] companies experience in offering this benefit. Among our Best Place for Working Parents network, 62% of these organizations offered paternity leave in 2023, compared to just 44% in 2019. Each year, we continue to see year-over-year growth with more companies adopting this benefit. We believe this shift is driven by the recognition that paternity leave not only benefits working dads and their families during that phase with a newborn, but it also significantly boosts business outcomes for the long term.

Not only are these companies offering paternity leave, but many companies focus on creating a culture that encourages their employees to actually take paternity leave after knowing the impact of this benefit.

Leadership can set a positive precedent by taking paternity leave themselves, signaling to employees that it’s not only accepted, it’s encouraged. This is important as 72% of men said they would have taken a longer parental leave if they had seen co-workers do so, highlighting the importance of leading by example.

SHRM Online: What is the effect of the birth of a child on a father’s career? And how does paternity leave make a difference?

Funk: The birth of a child is a defining moment in anyone’s life, especially for working parents who find themselves balancing professional responsibilities and new family obligations. Companies that support their employees in this defining life event can be seen more favorably by employees, driving loyalty, retention, and employee satisfaction.

Research shows that fathers who take paternity leave tend to return to work more engaged and motivated, which can positively affect their performance, productivity, and loyalty. However, the absence of adequate paternity leave can result in stress and decreased job satisfaction, potentially leading to turnover. In fact, 69% of fathers would change their job to spend more time with their families, highlighting the significance of paternity leave in supporting employees’ well-being and fostering a supportive work environment that benefits both the individual and the organization.

SHRM Online: What about for employers—how does it impact their bottom line?

Funk: The benefits of paternity leave extend beyond personal fulfillment to significantly enhance business success, impacting productivity, performance, turnover, and employee morale. Our research suggests that businesses with family-friendly policies attract, motivate, and retain talent more effectively. More specifically, research on paid parental leave, including leave for fathers, shows that it impacted productivity (89%), performance (91%), turnover (96%), and employee morale (99%). In practice, providing family-friendly benefits makes a significant impact on business performance and supports a healthy work/life balance for employees.

SHRM Online: What’s some of the motivation behind progress in employers addressing support for working parents?

Funk: During the pandemic, employers across the country were forced to innovate in implementing family-friendly policies, and it turns out that those strategies worked really well, both for working parents and for businesses. Since the pandemic, we’ve entered what I like to call “the great shakeout” as companies looked at what was working and assessed what would become a mainstay post-pandemic. Since then, we’ve seen the workforce transform as more companies implement family-friendly policies like flexibility, child care support, and parental leave.

SHRM Online: What considerations should employers make when thinking about benefits, including leave, for dads in their workforce?

Funk: Employers can support fathers in the workplace by offering comprehensive policies designed for their unique workforce. This can be achieved by surveying employees to tailor parental-leave benefits to their specific needs and implement policies that genuinely benefit the workforce.

Additionally, companies can offer flexible options for taking leave, such as distributing the time in a way that works best for their family and team, so working dads might be more likely to take their paternity leave. This approach is already implemented by many companies in our Best Place for Working Parents network, illustrating both the business and personal benefits in support of working fathers.


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