Mandatory Paternity Leave: The Next Must-Have Benefit?

December 6, 2018

The most intriguing idea in corporate benefits is not onsite nap rooms, workplace yoga, or unlimited paid vacation. It’s mandatory paternity leave, a practice that means new dads don’t just have the option to take time off, they have to stay home with the new baby.

This concept has gained some traction in Scandinavia but not much elsewhere. In many countries, including the United States, China, and India, there is no legal provision for paid paternity leave. And in countries that offer paid parental leave to all new dads, it often goes unused. Which is too bad, because men taking leave just may be the secret to reducing the gender pay gap.

That’s one of the reasons that mandatory paternity leave is such a timely idea. Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece entitled “Want Equality? Make New Dads Stay Home.” The one U.S. company cited in the Journal piece as having adopted such a policy is Humanyze, a Boston-based people analytics firm. The company offers new mothers and fathers 12 weeks of paid leave but mandates the paternity leave.

“It’s my hope that one day we won’t have to mandate this,” Humanyze CEO Ben Waber wrote, “but that it’ll be expected of men to share childcare duties with women. This will unlock performance advantages for companies and ensure gender equality at work.”

For Ben, the issue is a moral one. “Sharing childcare responsibilities equitably is important,” he says. Beyond that, however, there are many benefits —for children, new fathers, and, significantly, new mothers — to insisting your dads take time off to help with newborns. There are also potentially significant benefits for companies.

Why dads aren't using paternity leave when it's offered 

According to the 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) benefits report, 35% of U.S. companies offer paid maternity leave and 29% offer paid paternity leave. So most Americans welcoming a newborn don’t get paid time off, though they are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid time off by the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. Hold your applause: The United States is one of just eight countries — along with Suriname, Papua New Guinea, and five small Pacific island nations — that doesn’t have a law mandating some paid parental leave.

According to research by Deloitte, 57% of male respondents in the United States said taking leave would be interpreted as a lack of commitment to their jobs. They are not alone. In Japan and South Korea, both of which mandate generous paid leave, few fathers actually use it. In Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic, three nations where parental leave can be transferred between mothers and fathers, only 3% of dads take it.

Which is why Humanyze has made its parental leave mandatory for dads. If it’s required, there can’t be any reproach. And if the stigma is lifted for men, it will be lifted for women. “Bias plays such a clear role,” Ben told the Journal, “we decided we are going to say, ‘It’s not an option. You [men] have to take the time off.’”

When new dads take leave, the wage gap shrinks

And once mothers and fathers start taking parental leave in more equal measures, the wage gap begins to shrink. In a 30-year study of more than 12,000 people conducted by the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, women saw their earnings drop 4% after the birth of each child while new dads received more than a 6% bump. According to the Journal, recent research shows that “even two decades after the birth of their first child, [women] face a 20% gender wage gap.”

Bottom line? “Policies that mandate paternity leave,” argues Seth Taylor-Brill in The Claremont Radius, “will presumably reduce the length of maternity leave and help mitigate the decrease in mothers’ wages.”

In fact, a Swedish study found that for every month a new father takes off, the mother’s income rises 6.7%, as measured four years later. No wonder Sweden gives new fathers — “latte dads,” as they’re often called there — three months of required parental leave.

Dads should embrace paternity leave — for their sake and their babies’

It’s not just moms who should be making the case for paternity leave — dads should be arguing loudly for it. Another Swedish study found that men who took between 31 and 90 days of parental leave decreased their mortality risk by 25% when compared with those who took no paternity leave.

Research shows that dads who take parental leave have stronger bonds with their children. No surprise there. But various studies also suggest that fathers who take paternity leave have better health (as do their kids) and more stable relationships.

And, finally, an article in The Guardian promises a benefit (more inferred than proven) that may grab the attention of some holdouts: “Want Better Sex, Dads?” the headline asks. “Then Take Paternity Leave.”

Final thoughts: Paternity leave is good for business

Even companies that are committed to bringing gender equality to the workplace may blanch at the presumed expense of mandatory paternity leave. Where’s the ROI?

In Norway, where new parents receive 46 weeks of leave at full salary, the government sees this as a no-brainer. “What the government subsidizes in parental leave and early childcare is more than offset by the increase in GDP created by mothers staying in the workforce,” wrote Christa Clappa in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Research indicates that men and women who take parental leave have fewer absences and are more productive after they return to the workplace. Generous parental leave also lifts morale, improves employer branding, and increases a company’s ability to attract and retain talent. This is particularly true with millennials: An EY survey found 83% of U.S. millennials said they would be more likely to join a company that offered flexibility and paid parental leave.

As the Journal noted: “[Paid parental leave] encourages a more gender-balanced workforce, which research shows leads to greater corporate success.”

The betting here is that in the next few years the perception of required paternity leave will change from a cute Scandinavian novelty (aren’t those stroller-pushing latte dads adorable?) to a mainstream practice adopted by forward-looking companies that truly want to bring gender equity — and its benefits — to the workplace.

*Photo by Maria Lindsey from Pexels

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.