Selling the Daddy Track

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m an expectant father and I want to take some time off after our baby is born. But even though my company offers some family-friendly benefits, my boss isn’t very happy about the idea. At all. I know I have legal rights under the Family Leave Act, but I don’t want things to get hostile. Do you have any suggestions for how I might be able to convince my employer?

A: Over the past decade or so, more and more companies are offering family-friendly benefits. But when it comes to male employees, the messages about whether it’s okay to actually use those benefits are, as you’ve discovered, mixed at best. For example, about 13 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave. But even at those companies, only about half of eligible men take it. The rest don’t, largely out of fear that they’d be committing career suicide. Overall, compared to mothers, fathers are only one-tenth as likely to have ever used parenting leave and one-sixth as likely to have ever worked part time.

What it comes down to is what attorney Kari Palazzari calls the “daddy double-bind.” Men are still expected to be the primary breadwinner, so “success” at work means spending less time at home. But today’s dads are now expected to be actively involved in every part of their family life, and “success” at home requires spending less time at work. It’s nearly impossible to reconcile the two.

But dads—like you—are certainly not giving up. Even those who don’t take paternity or family leave manage to carve out some time to be with their newborns by cobbling together sick days, comp time, vacation days, and so on. On average, that adds up to a little over a week.

The good news is that it looks as though some cracks are developing in what I like to call “the other glass ceiling”—the obstacles that make it hard for men to be with their children as much as they’d like.

A growing number of companies are discovering that not having father-friendly policies can be incredibly expensive, and that having them is just plain good for business. Let me give you a few examples, some of which were drawn from a wonderful report, “Defining Paternity Leave: Shifting Roles, New Responsibilities in the Family and the Workplace,” produced by The Boston College Center for Work & Family. You may want to print out this column and give it to your boss.

  • Businesses lose more than $150 billion a year due to absenteeism, employee turnover, healthcare, and workers’ compensation benefits directly resulting from overworked, overstressed dads.
  • Inability to balance work, family, and community is linked to reduced work performance, higher employee turnover, poor morale, and increased work conflict.
  • Absenteeism alone costs an average of nearly $800 per employee every year—$80,000 per year for a company with 100 employees.
  • Employees who felt that their supervisors supported their personal and family needs were three and a half times more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction (70 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • Companies that offer paid parental leave say that those policies “have strengthened their recruiting and retention initiatives.”
  • Employers with fair leave policies, believe that these policies “have been key components to increasing company loyalty and employee good will.”
  • A number of companies, including the Marriott hotel chain estimate, that for every dollar it spends helping employees with work/life issues such as fatherhood, the company saves four dollars due to lower turnover and absenteeism.