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Paternity Leave Benefits: Important But Often Overlooked

Support the entire family unit by offering inclusive paternity leave benefits to encourage bonding and support at home.

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Swedish families are set up to succeed. An employee benefit known as föräldrapenning allows parents to take 480 days of paid leave per child, which can be distributed as you choose between parents. Families must use 384 of these days before the child’s fourth birthday, with the remainder available until the child turns 12 years old or finishes fifth grade. The policy is generous, flexible, and allows children to spend an enormous amount of time bonding with both parents during their early formative years. 

Unfortunately, many other countries around the world, including the U.S., are far less generous than Sweden. But employers can still support their employees by offering paternity support alongside traditional maternity leave. This guide explains paternity leave in more detail, including why you should offer it and how you should position your offering. 

Paternity leave benefits 101

Paternity leave is a type of family leave that allows fathers to take time off work after the birth or adoption of a child without losing their job or income. It’s a crucial benefit that allows fathers to bond with their child, support their partner, and take on an equal share of childcare responsibilities. Despite its importance, only 32% of employers currently offer paid paternity leave

Two examples are apparel company Lululemon and software company Atlassian. 

  • Lululemon offers an inclusive Parenthood program delivering paid leave of up to six months for global employees at all levels. The benefit is gender neutral, applying to maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. 
  • Atlassian provides 26 weeks of paid leave for birthing parents and 20 weeks of paid parental leave for non-birthing parents to mark the milestone of becoming a parent and to give caregivers time to spend with their families. 

David Morrow, Senior Policy Analyst at Energia, provides an account of his paternity leave so far and why it’s been so valuable for his new family unit: 

“I didn’t know what to expect from paternity leave, but I don’t think I fully appreciated how important it was. If you’re part of a family, you’ve got at least two people in the house (mother and baby) who have gone through bigger changes than you through the birthing process, and they need support.

I find the concept of the first three months of a baby’s life as the fourth trimester a useful one. If humans didn’t have such large heads, they’d stay those extra three months in utero, so the idea of the fourth trimester is to keep the baby’s experience as similar as possible to what they had in the womb—close, warm, safe, and fed—all on demand. 

It’s an extraordinary time and I’m hugely grateful to be able to relish it, as I know that I get more leave than some others, and that some basically get none. It is simultaneously exhausting and extremely restful. My partner is incredible and watching her is every bit as nurturing as being with the baby.”

Why offer leave to new fathers?

Historical attitudes toward childcare have seen women stay at home to raise their families. According to Berkeley, University of California, fathers in the 1970s worked for 50 hours a week and spent 11 minutes on childcare per workday and 25 minutes each day of the weekend. Fast forward to 2022, and fathers in America spend 7.8 hours of the week with their children, rising to 10.2 hours for college-educated dads. Offering paid paternity leave cements their roles as caregivers even further, providing tremendous benefits for the entire family: 

Paternity leave supports mothers 

For mothers, one of the hardest parts of bringing a newborn home is juggling their own childbirth recovery with the demands of an infant who needs round-the-clock care. Many working women also have the worry that they must be fit and well enough to return to work within a few months, which feels impossible if you’re struggling with zero sleep and baby blues. 

One study found that when a woman’s partner takes leave, this increases their likelihood of being physically ready to return to work by 34% and alleviates them having to choose between motherhood and a career. 

Paternity leave offers physiological benefits to newborns 

Biologically speaking, fathers have more to offer newborns than was previously thought. A study of pre-term babies in a NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit found that skin-to-skin time, or kangaroo care, between father and child offers the same physiological benefits to the baby that they would receive from their mothers’ contact. 

Paternity leave supports bonding 

Fathers who are with their children 24/7 have better opportunities to bond, especially when they’re playful with them. A study proves this interaction stimulates the production of oxytocin, also dubbed the love hormone, resulting in a greater bonding experience between father and child. 

Paternity leave decreases testosterone

Testosterone, a predominantly male hormone, lowers when fathers spend more time with their children. And that’s a good thing. A “Birth of a Father: Fathering in the First 1,000 Daysstudy describes: 

“Testosterone is generally considered favorable to mating and unfavorable to parenting efforts. In primary studies and meta-analyses, fathers tend to have lower levels of testosterone than nonfathers.” 

While testosterone appears to decline over the course of pregnancy in men, spending time at home with the family also reduces levels of this hormone further.

Paternity leave produces better outcomes for the child

Children who spend more time with their fathers have better outcomes, and this begins as early as birth. A Chinese study found that babies whose fathers were more involved in their lives experience greater cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills. 

Why many fathers don’t take paid family leave

The benefits of maternity and paternity leave are abundantly clear, but men don’t always take advantage of it. Why? 

Their employer doesn’t offer it 

While many larger organizations are adding more generous parental leave to their benefits offering, other employers defer to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which falls seriously short for working parents, offering the following as unpaid maternity or paternity leave

“Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on ‘covered active duty.’” 

Paid paternity leave isn’t covered, and many fathers will need to return to work to retain their employment and pay the bills. 

They need to support their partner financially

In situations where paternity leave is unpaid or offered at a reduced rate to their regular pay, it may be too expensive for both parents to remain at home with their family. If it’s a coin toss between which parent should return to work, the following reasons can impact the decision: 

  • Breastfeeding: While some employers offer benefits to support the logistical challenges of breastfeeding from a distance, some parents may not want or be able to feed their new baby with expressed milk, requiring the birthing parent to remain at home. 
  • Income differences: The U.S. still has a 16% gender pay gap, meaning that women earn 84 cents for every dollar men earn. In this case, it often makes sense for the partner with the higher income to return to work. 
  • Benefits differences: If both partners work for employers with varying parental leave policies, the person with the less generous benefits will typically return to work. 

They don’t know it’s an option

Some 45% of employees admit there are elements of their benefits packages they do not understand. Often, this comes down to employers inadequately communicating their benefits, resulting in some working parents not knowing or understanding what paid parental leave options are available to them. 

They’re worried about a stigma

In companies where taking paternity leave isn’t the norm, even if it’s permitted, non-birth partners may worry about the stigma associated with heading home for a few months. Does it look like they’re slacking? Will people gossip? Will they miss out on promotion opportunities? 

How to position your paternity leave benefits

Offering paternity leave benefits will position you as an employer of choice who cares about your employees on both a personal and professional level. Encourage uptake of your family leave policy by following these best practices: 

Communicate your paternity leave benefits 

Clearly communicate your benefits, offering numerous ways to educate your employees on what’s available, including: 

  • Adding a relevant employee benefits section to your company handbook 
  • Providing company-wide updates
  • Hosting Q&A sessions to address any questions 
  • Weaving employee benefits discussions into your onboarding processes 

Guarantee job security 

Ensure all employees considering paternity or family leave understand, and believe, that their jobs will be secure when they return to work. Reassure your staff that their positions are protected during their leave, and they can return to their role or an equivalent one with the same pay and benefits once their leave period concludes. 

Design inclusive policies 

Gender equality and inclusivity should be at the heart of your family leave policies and messaging, ensuring that they support all types of families and relationships. It’s important that your policies do not differentiate between mother and father but rather support the needs of every family unit equally.

Offer generous paid leave 

Make your paternity leave benefits enticing by providing a good amount of paid time off. Consider offering at least 12 weeks of paid leave to give fathers enough time to bond with their new child without financial stress. Paid leave demonstrates your commitment to supporting your employees’ personal lives and well-being.

Implement a “use it or lose it” policy

To encourage employees to take full advantage of paternity leave, position it as a “use it or lose it” benefit. This approach ensures employees don’t defer their leave for fear of workplace consequences. By framing it this way, you promote a supportive and family-friendly environment. 

Offer family forming benefits with Benepass

Certain fringe benefits can make all the difference to your employees as they embark on their path to parenthood. Benepass provides an inclusive way to support your employees both on their family formation journey and offering childcare support once they’ve arrived. 

The Benepass Family Care and Formation Account enables employers to roll out generous benefits and family support. Here’s how it works: 

  • You’ll define what is eligible as part of the account, for example, childcare.
  • We’ll code your unique benefits offering into a policy template on the Benepass platform. 
  • We’ll connect to your payroll platform to automate enrollment. 
  • You’ll invite your employees to join Benepass and start using their employee benefits from day one. 

Want to learn more about how we support employees and their families in a modern and inclusive workplace? Book a free Benepass demo today or contact sales@getbenepass.com for more information.

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Rebecca Noori

Rebecca Noori is a freelance HR Tech and SaaS writer who is obsessed with our world of work. She writes about everything from employee benefits and performance management to upskilling and productivity tips. When she's not writing, you'll find her grappling with phonics homework and football kits, looking after her three kids.

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