Should fathers take their paternity leave entitlement?
As a father of two boys I can confidently say that there is no greater time in life than those first few days you bring your pride and joy home from the hospital. Waking up early, holding them and watching their every move are memories that every new parent should feel entitled to enjoy. This need to bond with a newborn child is precisely the reason that we have a law here in the UK that entitles fathers to take 2 weeks paternity leave to enjoy this most special time.
However, a new report by the Institute of Leaders & Management has found that 25% of fathers took no paternity leave at all. Why? The report firstly blamed worries about the financial cost of taking paternity leave but more strikingly it also blamed “ingrained” attitudes towards paternity leave that are still present with many employers and within many institutions.
When reading this story it actually brought to mind a real life example which shows quite clearly why some men feel discouraged from taking, or even scared to take, the paternity leave they are entitled to.
A family member’s most special time
Just over 2 years ago now some extended family members of mine were enjoying a most special time, the birth of their twin girls was underway. To give you a little background as to the situation, the times leading up to the birth hadn’t been the most financially stable. The husband of the family in question – let’s call him John – was a skilled tradesman but, due to the recession, there hadn’t been as much work available and things had been a bit up and down as a result. Due to the situation, all the tradesman that were working for John’s employer had been forced to sign what was effectively a zero hour contract with the firm, meaning that when work was available they could get paid for that work but beyond that there wasn’t any real responsibility on the employers part to provide work and there wasn’t any holiday pay available, etc.
When it came to the birth of his twins there was actually plenty of work on at the firm. As he didn’t want to miss out on those precious few days though, John decided to take advantage of his two weeks paternity entitlement anyway, even though he wouldn’t get paid for it. All seemed fine, until he phoned his employer a week and a half later to confirm the details of his return date to work and where he should report to, at which point he was told not to bother returning. When he asked what the reason was for his ‘dismissal’ he was told that his attitude to work was wrong and that, rather than taking time off to be with his newborn children, he should instead be taking the work while it was available and showing his loyalty to the company, helping them to complete the current job at hand.
So would you risk taking paternity leave?
I think this short story does give us a little insight as to why only 75% of new fathers are actually taking the paternity leave they are entitled to, especially in the current economy.
For John things were especially precarious because his contract gave him no real security in his position, he just didn’t really expect that taking some time off to bond with his children would be an issue. He had after all served the company well for years and he felt that this loyalty would be returned, it turned out that he was mistaken.
What about those who do have a decent contract of employment, do they face this same tough decision? The figures would suggest that they do. I have no doubt that the “ingrained” attitudes mentioned in ILM report do exist and I think that a lot of new fathers out there are literally afraid to take the leave they are entitled to for fear of repercussion be it short term in the way of redundancy, or long term in the form of reduced career progression because of their lack of ‘loyalty’ or ‘work ethic’.
Do you know someone like John, whose career suffered after taking paternity leave? And do you think negative feelings still exist within some companies towards the concept?