- Employers may want to think about how they can use flexible working to support employees following the birth of a child.
- One way in which employers can support new fathers is through encouraging open discussion in the workplace to help recognise the challenges that come with being a working parent.
- Bringing paternity leave in line with maternity leave can help to create a culture where fathers feel comfortable asking for an extended period of leave, compressed or flexible hours and other support.
Research published in August 2022 by Instantprint titled What is the best country for working parents? found that 40% of UK employees deem government policies for new parents less than adequate, while 47% think that the current statutory paternity leave offering is not good enough for new fathers.
With this in mind, new fathers or fathers-to-be may want to find out what support and benefits they are entitled to from their organisation, while employers could determine what this group of workers want and need in terms of assistance.
New regulations are being introduced both in the UK and overseas to ensure mothers and fathers are able to access the right support as they return to work. For example, the UK government has backed legislation providing additional paid leave to parents whose babies require neonatal care after birth.
Additionally, employees have a right to request flexible-working arrangements such as working from home or flexible hours, says Vicki Russel, head of team experience at Instantprint. “This is even if their employer doesn’t currently offer such arrangements, which could help new parents balance out working with childcare needs and arranging and attending appointments pre- and post-partum,” she explains.
Flexible-working policies can also support employees who may be experiencing sleep deprivation or mental health issues as a result of having a child.
Equal parental leave, where both parents are entitled to the same amount of leave and a set number of weeks at full pay, is not currently required under UK law, however , this type of leave could benefit both parents. For example, if a mother suffers with post-partum depression, the father will not need to use annual leave to spend time at home, and vice versa.
Aviva offers up to one year of equal parental leave for both parents, of which 26 weeks is at full basic pay within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival. Staff have an equal amount of parental leave for birth, adoption and surrogacy and this is available to full-time and part-time employees across all levels. If both parents are employees of Aviva, they each have their own entitlement to leave and pay, which they can take at the same time.
Anthony Fitzpatrick, employee policy lead at Aviva, says: “This is highly beneficial for the situation and can remove any anxiety. Being prepared to have open conversations helps to get through temporary difficult stages and is a fairly solid foundation for employers to build upon.”
Most employers recognise that new fathers want to play a role in family life. For many, that will begin before a baby arrives, by attending ante-natal appointments and undergoing fertility treatment for example.
Employees who are pregnant or using a surrogate are entitled to paid leave to go to ante-natal appointments, with partners also able to take time off to go to one or two from the first day of a job, although this will not be paid. However, agency workers must have been in their role for 12 weeks before they are eligible for this. Staff are able to take up to six and a half hours for each appointment, but employers can offer longer.
Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK, says: “Equally, with most families now having two working parents, domestic and caring responsibilities tend to be shared. This means fathers, like all new parents, are likely to need added flexibility. The current deal for most dads ultimately impacts both parents and seems outdated given the shifts we’re seeing in family make-up and the roles we play. There will be times when working from home works best and equally, new parents will also welcome time away from home in the office. Having a family need not be a barrier to career progression and a fulfilling work life.”
Mental health and wellbeing support
New fathers should be openly encouraged to utilise any relevant benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), counselling services via telephone or video calls, and access to mental health and wellbeing apps, and reassured that using these will not impact their career progression.
Employers also need to recognise employees’ needs and match their benefits offerings accordingly, says Russel. This is especially true for new parents to ensure they feel supported in the transition of returning to work after having a child. “For new fathers, this could be even more vital, as the current statutory paternity leave offering grants them just two weeks of paid leave unless they decide to take on shared leave with their partners,” she adds.
One way in which employers can support both parents is through encouraging open discussion in the workplace to recognise the challenges that come with becoming a working parent.
A parental buddies scheme can act as a safe space for parents to exchange tips and advice with colleagues, says David Duckworth, co-founder of benefits platform Ben. Other examples such as internal workshops can raise awareness of issues such as postpartum depression, the importance of sleep, and various other struggles.
“Workplace parenting apps where parents can access expert advice, therapy and resources can be a great support system for new parents coping with the pressures of parenthood,” Duckworth explains.
Similarly, providing employees with access to mental health care can be a good way to support the mental health of new fathers. “Providers that offer 24/7 one-to-one mental health support to remote employees and childcare support through workplace nursery schemes and backup care, are great for emergency support,” Duckworth adds.
Having conversations with the workforce will help employers to implement a policy that will support new parents and is right for both the business and employees.
Employee resource groups are a good way of doing this, because they create a framework where people can come together to share things. “Keeping-in-touch days are important to help start conversations about employees being integrated back into the organisation after a period of leave,” says Fitzpatrick.
He adds that having a holistic wellbeing strategy, which includes benefits such as 24/7 EAPs, counselling, and access to mental health apps for staff to access when needed during the early stages of a child’s life can be useful.
Something for employers to consider is taking the idea of gender out of parenting policies, as more organisations move into offering non-gender specific terms, and equal benefits and policies.
More employers are looking to offer more inclusive parental benefits to support all new parents and caregivers regardless of gender, says Duckworth. “One policy we see progressive employers implementing is doing away with outdated terminology such as maternity and paternity and replacing it with more gender-fluid language, such as primary and secondary caregiver leave, and shared parental leave policies,” he says.
A move away from unconscious and conscious biases for all genders, and the idea that only one parent takes time off to look after a child to promote equality in terms of pay, bonuses, career progression and pensions, is the way forward, says Fitzpatrick.
“Levelling the playing field will help both mothers and fathers with this, as well as being good for the recruitment and retention of staff, who can see their values reflected in the organisation they work for,” he says. “Languages and behaviour can drive a weighted scenario for one gender, so having a bigger focus on the idea of what an employer can do for a parent regardless of gender is critical. If an employer can get its benefits right, it will get a high take-up rate.”
So while not all organisations will offer dedicated benefits or support aimed solely at new fathers beyond the statutory minimum, there are a variety of ways in which employers can support this cohort.