Alison Koslowski, University of Edinburgh, Harvard Business Review Jun 2018
In this article in the Harvard Business Review, drawing on research part-funded by Fathers Network Scotland, our partners at the University of Edinburgh survey reasons for slow uptake of flexible working options by fathers in Scotland.
Employers are increasingly finding ways to meet the needs of working fathers, offering them family leave, flexible scheduling, and affordable child care options. But fathers remain reluctant to take full advantage of this support, despite professing to want to be equal partners with mothers in child care, with all the diapering, meal planning, and carpooling that entails.
In our research on family leave policies and parenting culture in Scotland, we heard repeatedly that fathers felt worried and even embarrassed to use offered leave and flexible working entitlements.
Our analysis estimates that about 78% of Scottish fathers take some leave after the birth of a child, but only 18% take more than a couple of weeks. And that means 22% do not take any time at all. Low-income fathers are even less likely to take meaningful time off, fearing how deeply unpaid or reduced-pay time off would impact their family’s financial survival. We estimate that only 43% of those in the bottom income quintile take any leave after their child is born.
Employers may think that this is the best-case scenario: They reap the social benefits of offering (at times) generous arrangements for working parents, but they avoid the cost of unplanned absences. But when fathers don’t take leave, it costs the company. Our research suggests that companies with higher participation in programs designed to support working parents have higher employee retention and job satisfaction, both factors that balance out the cost of offering fatherhood benefits.
Supporting Fathers in the Workplace
Our research team at the University of Edinburgh analyzed data from Growing up in Scotland, a longitudinal survey designed to generate population estimates by tracking the lives of thousands of young children through childhood. We also conducted in-depth interviews with fathers of young children in dual-earner couples and conducted an audit of the benefits employers offer. We wanted to better understand what prevents fathers from succeeding as working parents and how companies might help them overcome the challenges.