You’ve seen the data; the United States is one of only a few countries that doesn’t mandate paternity leave. We’re in the illustrious company of Suriname, which I swear was never a country when I had to learn countries in middle school and Papua New Guinea. The tides are changing a bit with companies, largely in the tech sector, offering their own paid paternity leaves, but we still lag tremendously far behind all other world powers. With the benefits demonstrated through other countries mandating paid leave, it’s shocking that our country, states, and companies don’t offer more, but here we stand. This is exactly why I’m taking the full paternity leave my company offers and you should too.
Reminder: this is my personal blog and in no way represents my employer, Audible or Amazon, though I do think it’s awesome that they added paid paternity leave last year.
There are many benefits shown to result from fathers spending more time with their children, especially in the first few weeks. Countless studies have shown improved engagement, better performance for both the children later in life and the father at work, and decreased occurrences of undesired behavior. For me, with twins coming, unless we want to always be outnumbered, taking leave is necessary. We are lucky to live in New Jersey which is one of only three states to offer paid maternity leave, though to be honest it’s still not stellar and essentially just covers insurance and medical needs, and to work for companies that are fairly progressive when it comes to leave. My wife will take eight fully paid weeks from her company, followed by four unpaid, and then I will take my full six. That will just about get us to when the lads start to figure out how to escape from their cribs, probably using each other as ladders.
One of the biggest reasons I see that fathers should take leave is the wage gap. This is an oft-covered topic particularly endemic in the technology world, and one that needs to change. It is a simple fact that women are paid less and a large reason why is expectations set from childhood that women need to be the caretakers while men are the breadwinners. Another is that women are often penalized at work for taking extended time off, resulting in worse performance reviews, and fewer promotions and raises. Balancing out the time taken off, as well as changing the expectation that all employees can take time off helps to break this paradigm and close the gap.
In fact, a study in Sweden after instituting mandatory leave options showed that women increase their income by 7% for each month of paternity taken. The wage gap in technology is around 20%, starting around 18% and increasing to 22% for director level jobs. Thus taking 3 months of paternity leave can nearly account for this. Even better, the same amount does not show as a decrease on the male side, meaning this is essentially free money. In fact, a similar study showed that the GDP could be increased by 9% overall by offering similar leave options to countries like our Scandinavian brethren.
For two extremely career driven individuals like my wife and me, splitting up the time is the only way we can continue to lead something that resembles our pre-twin lifestyle, and more importantly, continue to build upon the values we feel are important. Plus, this shows the lads that work-life-harmony, to steal Jeff Bezos’s term is achievable and that mommy and daddy both work hard. Considering the two of us are the only two people I know who actually work when “working from home”, in fact, we realized the other day that we hadn’t spoken to each other since waking up at the end of the day, careers are important to us and the plan is to continue to be.
Beyond closing the gender gap, there are many benefits to children of fathers who take paternity leave. Fathers who take just two weeks of paternity leave are shown to be demonstrably more involved in caring for their children even after the leave. They are also shown to be more committed and involved with their children’s growth and success. This may be a case of correlation rather than causation, but it is still important. Where it becomes even more critical is over time, particularly their children’s entire childhoods. Their children are shown to be happier, more successful, and have more friends. Best of all for the rest of their lives, engaged fathers result in fewer occurrences of “risky” behavior like alcohol and drug use.
Home life for the wives and children of these fathers is also improved. After two weeks of paternity leave, fathers spend 23% more time on household chores. They also spend more time on child care chores. These both also result in fewer squabbles and a generally more harmonious home life, important for all family members. This also leads to lower rates of divorce and family stability.
The benefits extend beyond the home as well. Currently, only 14% of employers offer paternity leave in the US. The other 86% may want to take notice as paternity leave can improve things for them as well. Many employers see this time off as a loss in productivity, but in countries, and the states that added paternity leave options, no discernible loss in productivity was seen. However, companies that offered paternity leave saw higher retention for the employees, especially important in technical fields like technology where retaining talent is so critical. No wonder a disproportionate amount of that 14% are tech companies. Companies also report higher productivity post-leave as fathers are less distracted by their home lives due to the harmony they’ve found. Their engagement is similarly found to be higher. Men who take leave and offer more caregiving also tend to sleep better, perhaps by learning how to compartmentalize work and home life and effectively switch their brain off at night. Arianna Huffington discusses this in her latest book with regard to the critical but downplayed the importance of sleep. The most disruptive thing to work productivity is the lack of sleep. The most disruptive thing to getting enough sleep is failing to set a sleep schedule where you can decompress from the day and move to sleep mode. Parents very quickly learn the importance of a sleep schedule and the ritual around it. Goodnight Moon indeed.
A critical aspect of both taking leave and even family planning is the network effect between co-workers. Employees are 15% more likely to take leave when they see a co-worker do so. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed would be fathers are also more likely to even take the journey to fatherhood when working for a family friendly company, particularly one with paid leave. Audible is an incredibly family friendly company, providing not only leave, but also in general a sense that it is ok to spend time with your family. A large amount of the employees have children and this in part made it feel ok for me to enter fatherhood as well. Beyond knowing that I’d be ok with the work-life-harmony, I also knew I’d have a strong support system of other fathers who could help with advice or just a friendly ear during the toughest parts. There hasn’t been a day at work since I’ve announced the lads that someone hasn’t given me a genuinely excited greeting and warm wishes for them.
Amazon instituted an extremely generous policy last fall, and while it was not a factor in our decision; in fact it was announced right after we found out; it certainly makes things easier. Fathers now get six weeks of fully paid time off that can also be shared with spouses or split up as desired. Mothers get even more time. If only you got double the time for twins! This great policy would rank Amazon around 6th on Fatherly’s list of the 50 best places to work for new fathers, right around LinkedIn and Patagonia. Not bad company to be in (pun intended). It would be good to track the actual usage of these policies for the list as well. The vast majority of new fathers do not take their full leave. I don’t have data, but I’ve seen five out of five new dads I work with took the full leave since it was instituted.
The reason so few fathers use their leave is fear. Fear that they will harm their future career prospects as a result. There is a stigma that upon returning, fathers will find that their colleagues have surpassed them. Fear that their next performance review will suffer. Fear that they won’t be contributing and the company will suffer. Or fear that they won’t be contributing and the company won’t suffer, and their co-workers will realize it. These fears can sadly be well founded in places. However, the way to fix this is not by playing to these fears. If all fathers take their leave, it evens out. These are sadly the same reason so many women do not come back to work or fall behind. By balancing out leave and all employees taking full advantage, these issues can be eliminated.
Taking leave makes other men more likely to take their leave as well, 15% more likely. This number triples to 45% more likely when the leave-taker is a manager. And it doesn’t even have to be the direct manager. Simply seeing leadership take leave has a huge effect. This, in part, along with all of the benefits to the lads and my wife, is why I’m set on taking the full leave. As a highly committed member of my team and at Audible, I know this is going to be very tough for me. I will almost certainly find myself checking emails between night feedings or logging in just to take care of “one small thing” while out. But I feel it is important to set an example and show that taking leave is not only ok, it is the new expectation. I will minimize these occasions as much as possible because I want to fully enjoy every second I can with the lads, especially in the early formulaic times. And I want all of my co-workers to know it’s ok for them to feel and do the same. This is how we change the expectations.
So what else can we do to improve the current state? Over-communicate. Talk about the leave options at work. Talk about fatherhood and all of the good and bad at work and all around. Tell your coworkers about the amazing time you had while on leave and how much it’s changed you. Tell them about a special moment you shared with your children and how it’s changed you for the better. Brag about how well things are going. Share it outside of work as well. If the best revenge is a life lived well, so is the best way to show employers and co-workers why paternity leave works. Show them how it hasn’t impacted your career and how you’re even more effective now. It’s up to all of us to change the status quo and actually do what so many companies claim to do, change the world for the better.