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With the pull of new work/life demands, it’s not hard to see why fathers need support from their place of work. So what can businesses do to show understanding and good leadership?
Despite changes to paternity law in recent years, the impact of having children and in particular a new baby is still being overlooked by businesses. We asked Thom Dennis, CEO of conflict resolution, culture integration and change specialists Serenity in Leadership what employers can do to make things better.
“There are lots of ways organisations, managers and colleagues can support new, and not so new, fathers at work,” says Thom. “Here are seven of the best.”
Don’t wait for a new father to come to you because they are in over their head. Check in with them to understand what their new needs are and how you can be accommodating. They are going through a transition period and may be struggling with adjusting to their pre-child workload, let them know you understand this.
Many men will try to prove they are superman and show they are unaffected by having a child. Help to dispel the stigma of having to be perfect with a semi-regular check-in, as opposed to a one-off token chat; needs can and will change. Actively encourage paternal parental leave if it is something colleagues would like to do.
The gender equality movement has fought hard for there to be more equality in childcare. Social norms have shifted to support this new standard. However, corporations have been slower to adjust and acknowledge this. Advertising agencies still target their baby products advertisements almost exclusively towards women. The Millennial Dad At Work Report found that 87% of Millennial dads are involved in the day-to-day parenting of children. However, many workplaces are lagging behind and not offering the same level of support and understanding to new fathers that they would allocate to new mothers.
A study in the journal Work, Employment and Society published by the British Sociological Association, found that roughly a third of dads don’t know their rights regarding UK laws on flexible work. In many cases their employers were unsure of the rights themselves and thus did not educate their employees. Under the law, full long-term employees have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements, that their employers must consider on reasonable grounds. Employees who have experienced support and their needs being acknowledged often report a heightened sense of loyalty to their employers.
Anticipate that a member of the team coming back from paternity (or maternity) leave will create a dynamic shift. Talk openly about how he will be supported coming back to the office. Some employees may show prejudice when others return to work after a long paternity absence. If you don’t define the narrative of those returning to work, then it will be shaped by people’s own convictions. Change the narrative to an understanding that these periods are opportunities for the whole team to come together, become more agile and grow.
Research shows that 33% of new fathers are stressed during the perinatal period, however our culture offers little to no help or support. We should take note of this as dads at this stage are 47 times more likely to be a suicide risk than any other time in their lives. This receives far less attention than it deserves as men are still trying to follow the old societal script that dictates they should be strong and silent. There’s a widespread lack of acknowledgement that men face any issues at all, with often all the attention and concern going to their partner. The best way to tackle this is to normalise fathers struggling as well. This might be done by simply asking a new father how they’re coping with the new baby, or if they’re sleeping okay.
Just as in life, there’s a spectrum of people, styles and needs. Fathers returning to work have a variety of individualistic and unique needs. Some fathers are happy to be the sole breadwinner, others want to be the parent that stays at home and brings up the children. As our society changes, the challenge is shifting organisations’ mindsets, pushing them to match the pace. Leaders must create an environment where it’s okay for people to be parents. This requires a mental shift where an individual’s worth is not judged solely by the. As a whole, organisations need keep finding ways to encourage and allow people to be more human.