Are New Dads Being Overlooked in The Workplace?

Mark Jorgensen - HR Industry Specialist

It’s well-known that women have long wrestled with juggling their careers alongside raising a family. Though with more men actively involved in day-to-day parenting than ever before, new fathers are now also showing the signs of strain that come with this exciting, yet challenging, territory. So how can employers support?

Sleep deprivation and considerable changes in lifestyle are among the usual suspects when entering the wonderful world of parenthood. Or at least they’re the things we’re usually most comfortable talking about.

Often less discussed is the mental health impact experienced by men as well as women, including postnatal depression, PTSD and anxiety, due to increasing pressures both at home and in the workplace. In a recent report, 37% of new dads admitted that their mental health is negatively affected as a result of trying to balance work with their parental responsibilities.

Though whilst societal views are rapidly changing with respect to a father’s role in raising happy and healthy children, many of today’s workplaces are still lagging behind.

If employers want to retain their top talent, they need to drive meaningful change for a new generation of dads. We look at how a few small improvements to the employee experience can help those new to fatherhood feel both more supported and included in the working environment.

1. Review your paternity leave and pay packages

Despite the introduction of shared parental leave in 2015, so far only 1 in 10 new fathers have taken it due to financial worries and fear of harm to their long-term career prospects.

As a result, this leaves the majority of those new to fatherhood making do with either one or two week’s statutory paternity leave before having to throw themselves back into the daily grind. Considering that the first few months are not only a crucial time for bonding but also for supporting partners through a significantly changed routine and an emotionally taxing life event, a couple of weeks is arguably not enough.

But there are steps that HR professionals can take to support new dads and alleviate concerns centred around pay and time taken off when their newborn arrives.

With more employers acknowledging the mental wellbeing impact on new dads, many are now implementing their own paternity leave arrangements which are more generous than the statutory entitlement. The options can include weekly blocks taken at various times in the first year of the baby’s life, or simply additional days of annual leave to allow for flexibility.

However, hand in hand with this, there also needs to be a cultural shift where men taking extended parental leave are not penalised for doing so. With an ear to the ground, HR can begin to understand some of the concerns and frustrations of new fathers that are negatively impacting their employee experience and work with line managers to address these. Pulse surveys or encouraging open discussions with line managers are a couple of ways to garner such information, which can then help to inform paternity policies related to pay and career development.

2. Support and normalise flexible working

Working parent guilt is not just exclusive to mothers. Reintegrating back into the workplace after the arrival of a newborn can be difficult enough for many new dads, though being away from home daily for long hours can also cause a perpetual cycle of guilt and worry.

A working parenthood study by Talking Talent revealed that 57% of new dads said that they wanted flexible working hours, yet shockingly, 2 in 5 fathers who have applied for flexible working had their request turned down by their employer. Further still, one-third of millennial dads have changed jobs since becoming a parent to try to get their optimal work/life balance.

It has been documented time and time again that flexible working is likely to help organisations not only attract but also retain top talent. But this requires more than just a change in policy. For employers to truly adopt a culture of flexible working, they need to address current working practices to make it easier for both mothers and fathers to share parental responsibilities. The benefits of this are tenfold and may even be the key to closing the gender pay gap as women are then more able to progress in their careers too. 

As HR technology continues to create a more connected workforce, it has never been easier to support flexible working. Since we know that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer effective when it comes to improving the employee experience, it pays to offer more than one option. Working from home, flexitime and a change in working hours can all help to create an overall more positive experience for working dads, which can have a knock-on effect in terms of productivity and retention.

Flexible working may also help to aid greater health and wellbeing amongst new fathers, alleviating some of the stress and anxiety that often comes with juggling work and caring for a young family. This is just one of many initiatives employers could consider introducing with respect to supporting health and wellbeing. Though it’s also crucial for line managers to feel empowered to recognise the early signs of someone struggling before work becomes a major contributing factor.

3. Encourage a culture of parental networking

Parenthood brings with it many challenges and changes to priorities. However, for many new dads, there is still the expectation, and indeed a gender stereotype, that they will fulfill their pre-parent role when returning to the workplace. Though as we know, this lack of recognition as to the changing role of fathers and childcare can be harmful to mental wellbeing.

Support groups in the workplace can provide a vital platform for working mums and dads to discuss the issues that are important to them. Moreover, employers who adopt this approach are sending out an important message that it’s OK to discuss these matters when at work.

Parent networks can be introduced for both men and women, or even a dad-specific network if there is a desire for this amongst the fathers in your organisation. This promotes inclusivity and the opportunity for new and experienced fathers to share advice and some of the challenges they are facing, both in and outside of the workplace.

What’s more, a senior leader ‘owning’ the group as the face of a father-focused campaign could help more junior colleagues to self-identify as hands-on fathers, moving away from the stigma where men cannot ask for help or pull back from work slightly to prioritise their families.

Networking can incorporate numerous activities to be inclusive of the whole family, such as fun days, seasonal fairs or summer barbeques. This can help to bring working parents and their children together from multiple departments across the organisation and shows continued investment from employers in creating a personalised experience in line with employees’ changing priorities.

It’s safe to say that the working parent conversation is still ongoing; the trick for HR leads is to ensure that new dads in the workplace are included in this. Whilst there is always room for enhancements in terms of company benefits, it’s the cultural and communication changes to open up acceptance around working fathers and their work/life balance that can really make the difference.

Find out how you can improve the employee experience to address a wide range of challenges and frustrations facing different generations in your workforce in our new Undercover HR Boss guide - download your FREE copy today.

Undercover HR Boss

Gathering insights from hundreds of senior HR leaders across multiple industries, we’ve uncovered the challenges facing HR today when it comes to the employee experience and what HR really needs to do to improve it.

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