• June 2015

Paternity Leave: Is It Good for Business?

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author of
The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR

I really wish I could say that I see a trend where US organizations are giving fathers time off to be with their newborns — but it just isn’t happening.

We’re all well aware that we live in the only high-income country in the world that does not mandate paid leave for mothers.

  • In fact, nearly all of the countries in the European Union provide at least 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers, and many of them extend paid leave to fathers as well.
  • Germany recently announced that it would offer 12 months of care-giving leave — 10 months can be divided between the mother and father, but two months of the leave must be used by the father.
  • The joint chief executive and head of research for the UK’s Fatherhood Institute, Adrienne Burgess, said of the German plan, “It transformed paternity leave from something only a few guys did to ‘how idiotic are you to leave money on the table.’”

Remarkably, only about 20 percent of US men who are eligible for paternity leave actually take it.

Why? Evidence suggests that if they take leave, these men are teased at work — and many also report that they find it difficult to step away from their jobs, according to reports in Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.

As with most change in our working world, it occurs once businesses see that offering paid leave for both mothers and fathers is good for business and good for their bottom lines.

You only have to look at the successes that organizations such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have had by extending parental leave and paying people while on leave.

Here’s the good news.

In his new book, Work Rules, Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, author Laszlo Bock writes about the changes Google made to provide five months of paid leave for parents.

He explains that not only do new parents receive full pay, but they also receive bonuses and stock vesting for the entire time they are on leave. In addition, the company offers a $500 bonus to “help make life easier by, for example, ordering home meals for the first few weeks.”

Imagine how much loyalty is built by having this kind of policy!

Of course the payoff for Google and other companies that have these kind of policies is that new mothers in particular come back to work and are productive faster, so the organization wins, too!

I think the missing piece in this discussion is how to encourage fathers to take the time off if it is offered to them.

  • The solution to that is to make it easier and more acceptable in the workplace and for organizations to work to eliminate the stigma attached to dads taking the time to bond with their children.
  • We also need to encourage fathers to work with their organizations, if they are needed, to be able to carve out some time each day or week to still be involved at work.
  • If a man is eligible for paternity leave and involved in a discussion before he takes the leave as to how often he will be on email or when he would be available for meetings, perhaps more men would take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to participate in the once-in-a-lifetime experience with that child.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, improving the policy around paternity leave requires a culture shift — and those aren’t easy to do. But it can be done.

Companies that offer paternity leave say it is a recruiting advantage — especially for Millennial parents, who see the value.

Here’s another thought to ponder this month when we honor our dads: Let’s all take the first step and start instituting paternity leaves in our own organizations — and then let’s be sure to help more dads get comfortable with the idea of taking the time off!


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and has consulted for organizations around the world.

She has served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and at several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding The Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR.

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