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The New Mr. Mom

A new survey finds more than half of young new fathers are taking advantage of their employers' parental-leave policies following the birth of a child, but experts say companies need to emphasize to both genders that there is no career disadvantage to making use of such programs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
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You've got to hand it to those millennial dads: According to a recent Millennial Parenthood Survey by The Hartford, 52 percent of this up-and-coming generation of workers plan to take more than two weeks off after the arrival of a baby.

It has certainly helped that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act mandates unpaid leave, or that states such as California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia guarantee paid leave.

It also helps that larger employers are providing paid time off as a benefit designed to attract and engage talent, both female and male. In the survey, 31 percent of dads said both parents took off more than two weeks after a baby was born, while 21 percent reported they were the sole time-off caretaker. Meanwhile, 24 percent of moms reported that both parents took off, but that 65 percent of moms pulled solo childcare duty.

It seems legislation and benefits policies are responding to a culture shift being led by millennials (or Generation Y), who are now in the prime first-time parenting age range of 18 to 33, says Lindsey Pollak, The Hartford's Millennial workplace expert based in New York.

This generation places great importance on work/life integration, she says. "As millennials have gotten older, we have seen that interest in work/life integration has intensified. I've been noticing how many more men have been talking about the work/life side."

Although parental leave for fathers has been around in larger organizations for nearly two decades, not every company's culture has made it a comfortable option for dads before now, says Carol Sladek, partner and work/life consulting leader for Aon Hewitt, based in Lincolnshire, Ill.

"What has happened is a gradual shift toward better understanding that providing these kinds of benefits does create a higher level of employee engagement," Sladek says. "It's in the managers' and the employers' best interest."

Pollak notes several contributing factors to the shift. At best, parents of millennials behaved more like "peerants" and, at worst, they were overly involved-the stereotypical "helicopter parenting" approach. However, as a result of this sometimes-intense connection with parents, many millennial/Generation Y adults find that they, as parents themselves, want to be just as involved in their children's lives from the very start, she says.

Another trend, Pollak says, is that millennials value experiences over money and possessions. "They'd rather take a vacation than have a fancy car. That's also the reason we see a lot of job-hopping, which is really about getting to the next experience. Parenthood is part of that trend. They really want to experience it, especially for the first time."

Connective 24/7 technology has also had an impact. "They see that they don't always have to be at a desk or in an office to work," Pollak adds. "Knowing that these tools exist makes you want to take advantage of them."

There's also been a loosening of gender roles, especially since more women are the breadwinners in young families. "There's less of a stigma now; in the past, men wouldn't take parental leave because it wasn't considered 'manly.' I believe it's a good thing, but we have a long way to go with equalizing gender roles," she says.

According to Brenna Shebel, vice president at the National Business Group on Health in Washington, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's July 2014 ruling that employers should distinguish between leave provided for recovery of the physical limitations of pregnancy and childbirth and leave time for parent/child bonding, more employers are offering leave to all types of parents-mothers, fathers, adoptive parents and those welcoming a baby through surrogacy.

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"Some families use the parental leave to extend the amount of time that the baby stays home before starting childcare-that is, the dad may use [his] parental leave during the first weeks that the mom is back at work to keep the baby home longer," she says.

Some of the most innovative companies the NBGH has worked with have created peer groups of employees who are new parents, Shebel says, calling them an "effective means for exchanging ideas and learning how the benefits work for new parents." A second approach, she says, uses "one-on-one sessions with someone from the EAP or HR before the employee goes out on leave to learn more about programs for expectant and new parents."

"We've definitely seen the paid parental leave movement has really picked up in the last five years or so," Sladek says. When one large company offers paid leave, others pick up on it as a competitive response. "The millennials are comparing their benefit offerings and they're looking at these work/life programs because they are very important to them."

According to Mary Tavarozzi, Towers Watson's North America practice leader for absence and disability management in Tampa, Fla., companies have started emphasizing to their employees that there is no career disadvantage to making use of parental-leave programs.

As for state-mandated leave programs expanding, Tavarozzi says, she's seen a dying down of the trend, for now: "At the beginning of the year, the President in his State of the Union address called for states and employers to put in paid family leave > [and sick leave]. I think paid sick time muscled into the oxygen space to take over the momentum of paid < family leave."

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