Men wrongly think peers will criticise them for paternity leave

New data suggests ‘pluralistic ignorance’ means dads don’t take what they want or need because of mistaken beliefs.

fathers network scotland survey


New research at Santander UK by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) suggests that men may limit the amount of leave they take even when they can financially afford it because of incorrect fears about how they’ll be perceived by their peers.

The BIT said this was because of a psychology known as ‘pluralistic ignorance’ – a situation where most people hold the same opinion, while mistakenly believing the majority holds a different opinion.

At Santander UK, eligible secondary carers are entitled to take four weeks of paid paternity leave and up to 16 weeks of paid Shared Parental Leave (in addition to the legal entitlement to share up to 50 weeks of SPL).

However, currently 53.8% male employees take less than four weeks of leave and 23.1% of men take exactly four weeks of leave. Flexible working is taken up even less. The BIT research demonstrated how outdated societal norms helped convince men that taking extended leave wouldn’t be supported by others at the company.

On average, participants in the study would encourage men to take eight weeks of leave, but assumed others would recommend six.

When it came to working flexibly, respondents believed 65% of colleagues would encourage other men to be flexible in order to strike the right work/life balance, but in fact 99% of peers would do so.

In other words, there was little evidence to suggest there were actually any negative stereotypes around paternity leave and flexible working.

These results show how companies need to target behaviour alongside infrastructure in order to improve their family-friendly policies.

The BIT suggested “sharing feedback through different channels”, “measuring existing attitudes” and avoiding “anchoring men to take less leave by combining info on norms with info on policy entitlements”.

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