Survey by the Danish National Research Institute
January 27th 2007
last updated January 27th 2007
Men, Parental Leave, and Workplace Culture
The primary purpose of this study is to offer good examples of how the workplace culture can encourage men to use parental leave, but also to expose the conditions that make men decide against leave. With this aim, on the basis of a set of empirically based assumptions regarding men’s use of parental leave, we have selected four occupational fields to highlight the connection between workplace culture and use of parental leave. At the same time, workplace culture alone cannot explain the way men use parental leave. The men who were interviewed and who had chosen leave of absence were therefore also asked about their family situation. This showed the correlation between workplace culture, family situation and use of parental leave.
The four participating workplaces were: a unit if public administration, a supermarket, a metal business and a consultancy firm. At each workplace, the group of men who had used parental leave, their immediate supervisors, the human resources director, director and shop steward were all interviewed about their experiences with parental leave. A total of 32 interviews were conducted. A qualitative case description was developed for each workplace and is summarised in the respective chapters.
MEN, PARENTAL LEAVE AND WORKPLACE CULTURE
Overall, the development at each of the four workplaces has been mainly positive in recent years in that more men have taken advantage of their right to parental leave. The workplace cultures also revealed some specific features that helped encourage men to use their parental leave.
Family friendliness as part of today’s management strategies
The first factor to consider consists of contemporary management practices. New management strategies are characterised, for example, by giving employees more autonomy in deciding about their own work. Contemporary management and personnel policies seek to create a family-friendly workplace culture where it is possible to achieve a balance between work and family, giving men a lot of latitude in taking family leave. In the consultancy firm and the official administration, this has not, however, occurred without any friction – the fact that employees have been permitted to manage their work flow themselves has also to some extent added to their work hours and brought work into their homes and into the family sphere. On one hand, parents of small children depend on the daily flexibility of being able to care for their children and fetch and transport them as needed. On the other hand, this flexibility comes at the expense of work that stretches out over many hours of the day and invades the familial sphere. In the context of parental leave there lies the dilemma that while a family-friendly workplace culture highlights men’s care responsibility for their children and therefore their need for parental leave, at the same time, the values of management with its ways of negotiating between managers and employees assigns to men the responsibility for taking their parental leave at the “right” time and in the “right” amount in relation to the work that needs to be done.
Models of parental leave
The second factor in workplace culture that promotes men’s use of parental leave consists of the models that exist for taking parental leave. Stories of other men on paternity leave characterised the workplace cultures of particularly two of the workplaces studied. It is especially effective when these models are found at the management level. The two workplaces experienced a snowball effect from a time when no-one was taking parental leave to when nearly everyone was – following a manager’s lead.
New forms of co-operation
The third factor has to do with the organisation of work itself. The academics and the metal workers included in our study had a workplace culture that was characterised by collaboration on projects, team work, information sharing and efforts to make individual employees less indispensable and thereby easier to replace during a leave of absence. Also the presence of temporary workers in the supermarket and student assistants at the consultancy firm and in the administration, makes it easier to replace the men who go on leave.
The fourth characteristic in workplace culture to have an impact on the use of parental leave by men was the age distribution of employees. In workplaces, departments and offices with many young employees having children and taking leaves of absence, it is easier for male employees to use their parental leave. But in less age-homogenous work situations, employees may be faced with a tradition where men do not go on parental leave. Age is not the only factor at play here – it may simply reflect whether other employees in a particular workplace have children or not.
Role of partners in decisions regarding parental leave
Finally, the role of female partners must be taken into consideration, as workplace culture is not the only thing that affects men’s choices regarding parental leave use. This study confirms what Nordic research into parental leave use has shown year after year: women’s education and position in the labour market are decisive in terms of whether or not men use their parental leave, and, to a certain extent, how long a leave of absence men choose to take.
The men who take the longest parental leaves are more family oriented and less work oriented, and the same applies to their partners. The family leave fits into a family model where both the woman and the man devote more time to the home.
Men in the study who had highly educated female partners with full-time jobs and in some cases also forging a traditional career, explained their leave of absence by saying that there was no essential difference between them and their partner in terms of a temporary absence from the labour market. Their partners longed to return to work following parental leave, and therefore it was self-evident for the men to use part of the shared parental leave after the woman had already taken six to eight months of leave. In this study, it was mostly the academics who found themselves in this family situation, and their workplaces made it easier to balance work and family leave.
Read the full report in Danish (pdf)