Paternity Leave Is Key to Retention, Engagement

June 9, 2014 8:15 pm

New Research, Sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP, Provides Insights From Fathers at 286 Companies

By Debby Scheinholtz

The New DadWhile the United States lags behind 70 countries by not offering paid paternity or parental leave, it’s not for lack of interest among fathers—or their employers. Ninety-nine percent of working fathers surveyed by the Boston College Center for Work and Family think employers should offer paid paternity leave. The findings were published in the report, The New Dad: Take Your Leave.

The results of the research, which was funded by Ernst & Young LLP (EY), were presented at the White House Panel on Working Fathers on June 9. And while just three states (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island) now offer paid paternity leave, companies are stepping up their efforts to provide the benefit as they find that leave for fathers increases retention and engagement of men, and contributes to women’s advancement by encouraging shared home responsibilities.

More than 1,000 fathers, representing 286 companies across a range of industries, responded to the center’s latest New Dad study. In addition, 30 companies participated in benchmarking that yielded more detailed information on fathers’ views of paternity leave. Seventy-six percent of the 2014 DiversityInc Top 50 companies offer paternity leave, including nine of the Top 10. Sixty-seven percent of the fathers surveyed by Boston College had access to paid paternity leave or paid parental leave, but only 20 percent of employees in the United States work at worksites that offer paid paternity leave to all or most of their employees, according to 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.

At EY, which implemented its policy in 2002, men are offered up to six weeks of paid paternity leave. Nearly all eligible men—between 500–600 a year—have utilized this benefit, which mirrors women’s use of paid parental leave at the firm. The policy is open to adoptive dads as well as men in same-gender couples.

The firm encourages men to take all of their leave, which can be broken up. The trend has been to take two weeks at the time a child is born, and four weeks, either at once or broken up, after his partner goes back to work. Three quarters of the fathers surveyed by Boston College said two to four weeks was an appropriate amount of leave, and 76 percent said they would prefer the option of not taking all of their time off immediately following the birth of a child.

Corporate Diversity Best Practices

Karyn Twaronite, EY


EY also supports working parents through its Career and Family Transitions coaching program, open to men and women before, during and after leave. When the idea for the program was brought up, says Karyn Twaronite, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP and EY Americas Inclusiveness Officer, it was intended for women only, but the suggestion was made to pilot the effort for men. The pilot was such a success that men were immediately incorporated into the formal program. Now, a quarter of the 400 parents who participate are men.

Last year, the firm’s Global People Survey showed that working parents had the highest levels of engagement at EY, says Twaronite, showing the importance of these efforts to retention and productivity. Overall, workplace flexibility was cited in EY’s recent research on generations as the most important non-cash benefit among all generations—with 40 percent of Generation X men (the cohort most likely to be new fathers) saying they’d leave a company if flexibility was not offered.

In building the business case for paternity leave and other work/life benefits for men, Twaronite suggests three strategies:

  • Listen to your employees. Twaronite conducted listening tours at the firm’s offices when she took on her role; she also recommends participating in external research and holding internal focus groups to determine what may be impeding employee productivity.
  • Enlist key influencers. More than just a benefits issue, paternity leave policies should have the input of finance, operations, marketing and other key areas of the company. EY also looks to its LGBT resource group to make sure policies are equitable, and to its Today’s Families resource groups, including Fathers’ Forum, Caregivers Circle and Parents of Children with Special Health Care Needs.
  • Encourage men to be role models. Influencers and high-potentials who talk about their experiences with work/life policies can have a strong impact on others’ behavior.

The Boston College Center for Work and Family offers these additional recommendations for companies:

  • Offer paternity leave as part of your talent management strategy, as it is a factor in recruiting and retaining Millennials.
  • Build a business case for adding or expanding paid paternity leave. Track usage of paternity-leave policies and use of PTO/vacation/sick leave by men after the birth of a child. Look at turnover data and exit interviews for evidence of men leaving for reasons related to work-family balance, and ask parental leave questions on employee-engagement surveys.
  • Make the policy flexible, allowing fathers the option to take leave when they need it most.
  • Understand the impact of men on women’s advancement. In order for women to achieve parity at work, the study notes, it is critical that men be not just allowed but encouraged to take a greater role in caring for their children.
  • Develop a supportive culture that allows for actual usage of paternity leave—not just a policy on paper.