Helping employers help male employees become better fathers
January 17th 2007
last updated January 26th 2007
Though the Danish system makes both mothers and fathers eligible for financial compensation during parental leave, mothers use parental leave much more actively than fathers. On average women take 297 days off following childbirth, while men take only 19 days. One key reason for this difference is workplace cultures, which directly or indirectly pressures men and fathers to forego parental leave.
Four factors relating to workplace culture seems to encourage men to take parental leave: A modern management style, a project approach to the organisation of work, the presence of role models and a concentration of employees of similar and relatively young age.
Other reasons for men not taking parental leave are: career considerations – both their own and those of their partner, insistence on behalf of the mother not to share parental leave with the father, guarantees by municipalities to provide day care and the simple fact that some men do not feel the need to take parental leave.
Helping Employers Support their Male Employees in being Good Fathers
This section provides links for employers wishing to encourage more male employees to take parental leave and spend time with their children.
Based on research conducted among various workplaces in Denmark in 2005, the Danish Department of Gender Equality has produced a toolkit featuring information for employers and others interested in balancing work and family life and generally improving gender-equality.
The information is divided into 4 sections:
1. Why is change needed?
2. How can men be encouraged to take parental leave and spend time with their children?
3. What prevents men from taking leave?
4. What are the effects of family- and other circumstances?
Why does something need to be done?
In Denmark, few men make use of their right to take paternity leave. The right alone is not enough to make men utilise their option of taking leave of absence to be with their children.
Workplace culture plays a significant role when it comes to men taking leaves of absence. A recent interview survey on paternity leave among 32 men, their managers, and shop stewards indicated that workplace culture is one of the major obstacles when men decide whether to take paternity leave or not.
Workplace culture is defined by way of three separate dimensions: the management values of the workplace; the organisation of work; and the considerations for family life in the workplace. The question is: What impact do organisation of work tasks and assignments and the management values of a company have on men’s decisions to use their right to take paternity leave?
Women use maternity leave much more actively
The basis for the survey is the 2002 decision of the Danish Parliament to adopt a new system of parental leave that enables parents to create a better balance between working life and family life while on parental leave. The system aims to make it easier for fathers to adapt the use of their parental leave right to their working life, thereby encouraging more fathers to utilise the system of paternity leave.
Mothers use parental leave much more actively. For each newborn child in 2003, on average parents took 297 days off following childbirth. Men accounted for an average of 19 days of leave while women took an average of 278 days.
Four highly different companies
The 32 survey respondents came from four very different workplaces. Each workplace had its own management style, organised work differently and was composed of different types of employees. But all four companies had men who had decided to take paternity leave. The companies offer practical examples to illustrate men’s use of paternity leave.
The survey was conducted by the Danish National Institute of Social Research (‘Socialforskningsinstituttet’) in a public administration unit, a supermarket, a metal business, and a consultancy firm. The aim of the survey was to map out some of the preconditions that may motivate men to take leaves of absence, especially because the law that established the system of paternity leave does not seem to do so:
1. What elements of workplace culture permit men to take leave of absence?
2. How do individual men and workplaces overcome the obstacles?
The survey was financed by the Danish Minister for Gender Equality and the European Commission.
The Danish system of parental leave
The Danish system grants mothers four weeks of pregnancy leave and 14 weeks of maternity leave. Fathers are eligible for two weeks of paternity leave within the first 14 weeks following childbirth. During a total of 20 weeks, each parent is entitled to full compensation equal to the current level of unemployment benefits.
Parents are entitled to a leave of absence in the first 14 weeks after childbirth, up to a maximum of 32 weeks. Each parent is eligible for financial compensation during half of the total 64 weeks.
All things considered, this system enables parents to take a total of 52 weeks of paid parental leave. Ultimately, the system allows the mother or father to reassume work on a part-time basis and defer a portion of their paternity leave until the child has reached the age of nine.
What would encourage more men to take parental leave of absence and be with their children?
Four basic factors seem to encourage more men to take parental leave when it comes to workplace culture:
- The workplace is run according to a modern management style which takes into account family life in its policies
- Work tasks are organised in projects and in teams
- Role models show the way
- Homogenous and young age composition
Why should management consider family life?
By allowing considerations for the wellbeing of the family play a part in general management and in human resource policies, a company sends a clear signal to the employees that men and women share the responsibility of caring for their children. This in turn makes it easier for men to depart from the tradition that prohibits them from posing demands at the management for greater freedom to enjoy time with their children. Instead, they negotiate an agreement on parental leave – and then take it.
To what extent do flexible working hours play a role?
Flexible working hours and team work are also part of modern management. The freedom to plan and organise one’s working day gives the employee a better chance to reconcile work and family life. On the other hand, flexible working hours pose a danger in the sense that the employee might extend the working day and end up bringing work home, which then spreads out and into the sphere of the family.
Why organise work in projects and teams?
The way the workplace organises work tasks can have a positive impact on the decisions to take parental leave. In a work environment where cooperation, teamwork, and knowledge sharing are standard procedures, the individual employee becomes less indispensable. It makes it easier for the individual employee to decide to take a leave of absence and easier for the mid-level manager to find replacements.
What’s the effect of competition among men?
Men tend to prefer parental leave if they conceive of each other as work partners rather than competitors. It may be that competition hasn’t disappeared all together, but the character of the competition among men has changed: A man is better at his job if he’s able to show that he matches both the needs of the workplace and the needs of his family. His value in the market place thus increases with his ability to reconcile or alternate between the spheres of work and family.
What impact do role models have?
Both male and female role models in the workplace encourage more men to take parental leave. In some cases a manager creates a snowball effect by deciding to take a leave of absence himself. Likewise, it improves the likelihood of men taking parental leave when a manager – male or female – gets promoted following a period of parental leave. In this way, management is making a gesture that even though he has been away for a while, the employee is still seen as looking after his career.
Why are role models important?
The fact that role models have an effect on men’s decision to take leave of absence apparently relates to the image of the caring and attentive father. One way of realising this image in one’s own life is by spending time with one’s child while on leave. In an applied sense, managers who have taken a leave of absence to be with their children themselves have a difficult time refusing others the same privilege; they know that to spend an intense period of time with the child is an amazing experience for fathers and mothers alike.
What role do colleagues play?
Colleagues also influence men’s decisions in favour of parental leave. It is easier for men to make use of this option if they work in a company or department where the majority of employees are young and have children themselves.
In other places employees face traditions that dictate renunciation of the option of parental leave, although it is not only about age. The more colleagues that have children, the more legitimate it becomes for both men and women to seize the option themselves. This tendency is reinforced if the manager of a department has children of his or her own.
What keeps men from taking a leave of absence?
Issues to address if there is a desire to encourage more male employees to take parental leave:
Men are not familiar with their rights.
Women do not doubt that maternity leave is a right that they enjoy. But some men are not aware that this option exists for them because they haven’t made themselves familiar with the Danish system. The survey indicated that more men would make use of the system if companies, unions, and public authorities alike were to make information on this option more readily available.
Does the economic situation of the employee matter?
Some people do not find that their economic situation is a problem when on leave. Others would have chosen to take a longer leave of absence if they had been able to afford it. This is because under the Danish system some employees receive their full salary, while others have to do with paternity leave benefits that are equivalent to the level of the unemployment benefit. Thus, Danish employees experience different conditions depending on the workplace and their status therein.
Some face the problem that they – woman and men alike – may fall behind on bonuses and allowances while on leave for longer periods. Some companies allow employees full salary during the entire period, whereas others pay only part of it.
Who will take over duties and assignments?
Temporary office workers or other substitutes often take over women’s tasks when they are on leave. This solution won’t always work for men who often take shorter leaves. Instead, some workplaces use student assistants and freelancers. Others distribute vacant assignments among colleagues or leave some of the tasks to the head of the section.
What can managers do?
To a great extent, it is left to the mid-level managers to juggle assignments to allow male employees to take paternity leave. It often proves difficult to manage a family-oriented policy while at the same time managing a comprehensive work flow. That notwithstanding, the pressure on a mid-level manager is reduced if he or she is allowed sufficient economic resources or personnel to organise assignments during the paternity absence of a colleague.
What are the effects of the family and other circumstances?
Workplace culture alone does not determine whether men take paternity leave or not. Personal matters also play a part in these considerations.
Men consider the needs and wishes of the spouse
The family plays a large role in deciding whether men use their parental leave or not. One consideration is money. Another is a partner’s position in the labour market.
If the partner has a high position, a full-time job and is also engaged in making a career, a man will typically decide already before the child is born that he will use part of the parental leave. Why should he not take a large portion of the leave, when he and the child’s mother both are dedicated to their jobs?
On the other side, there are also women who, for personal reasons, do not wish to divide the leave with the father, even when the father himself would gladly stay at home for a while with the child.
Child day-care systems
Before, many Danish parents were not able to obtain day care for their children, but these days municipalities guarantee children a day-care centre placement. It is therefore no longer a problem to get day care for one’s children. Some men nevertheless extend their parental leave to wait until a day-care slot become available at the institution of the family’s choice.
Not all men need parental leave
Men can naturally be present and involved in their children’s lives without taking family leave. Some perhaps work at times that make it possible to be together with their children for a long time every day. Fathers in this situation perhaps do not have the same need for a leave of absence as other fathers.
Other relevant articles and links:
• Tine Rostgaard: Setting time aside for the father: father’s leave in Scandinavia in Community, Work & Family, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2002
• Linda Haas: Parental Leave and Gender Equality: Lessons from the European Union in Review of Policy Research, Vol. 20 (4), 89-114
• Øystein Gullvåg Holter: Can men do it? Men and gender equality – the Nordic experience. TemaNord 2003:510. ISBN 92-893-0845-1