Dear Mr. Dad: I’m an expectant father and I want to take some time off after our baby is born. But even though my company offers some family-friendly benefits, my boss isn’t very happy about the idea.
I know I have legal rights under the Family Leave Act, but I don’t want things to get hostile. Do you have any suggestions for how I might be able to convince my employer?
A: Over the past decade or so, more and more companies are offering family-friendly benefits. But when it comes to male employees, the messages about whether it’s OK to actually use those benefits are, as you’ve discovered, mixed at best.
For example, about 13 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave. But even at those companies, only about half of eligible men take it. The rest don’t, largely out of fear that they’d be committing career suicide. Overall, compared to mothers, fathers are only one-tenth as likely to have ever used parenting leave and one-sixth as likely to have ever worked part time.
What it comes down to is what attorney Kari Palazzari calls the “daddy double-bind.”
Men are still expected to be the primary breadwinner, so “success” at work means spending less time at home. But today’s dads are now expected to be actively involved in every part of their family life, and “success” at home requires spending less time at work.
A growing number of companies are discovering that having father-friendly policies is just plain good for business. Let me give you a few examples, some of which were drawn from a wonderful report, “Defining Paternity Leave: Shifting Roles, New Responsibilities in the Family and the Workplace,” produced by The Boston College Center for Work & Family.
•Businesses lose more than $150 billion a year due to absenteeism, employee turnover, healthcare and workers’ compensation benefits directly resulting from overworked, overstressed dads.
•Inability to balance work, family and community is linked to reduced work performance, higher employee turnover, poor morale and increased work conflict.
•Absenteeism alone costs an average of nearly $800 per employee every year.
•Employees who felt that their supervisors supported their personal and family needs were three and a half times more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction (70 percent vs. 19 percent).
•Companies that offer paid parental leave say that those policies “have strengthened their recruiting and retention initiatives.”
•A number of companies, including the Marriott hotel chain, estimate that for every dollar it spends helping employees with work/life issues such as fatherhood, the company saves $4 due to lower turnover and absenteeism.