Organizational Wellness

Parental Leave is More Than an Employee Perk — It Benefits Businesses Too.

Jun 16, 2023
Last Updated Jun 28, 2023

When I became a father for the first time, I took three days off. Three measly days! I told myself one long weekend was plenty of time to adjust to the most life-changing experience I’d ever had. I was in the thick of building my startup from the ground up and couldn’t possibly be gone any longer, I thought. Time to get back into the ring.

It was brutal. On top of being first-time parents, my wife was recovering, we had a small apartment, and I was still working for 12 hours every day. So much hung in the balance at that time, and I did not even realize it. I was jeopardizing my relationship with my wife. I was losing that critical time with my newborn. I was very close or at burnout, which could have derailed the entire future of Wellhub.

It's a risk I wouldn't take today, knowing what I know now. It’s not a risk I want anyone to take, but many are forced to do so. In the U.S., where there is no federally required parental leave, only 21% of American workers even have access to paternity leave. And those numbers are dwindling. Today, only one in four fathers takes at least a week off of work when a child joins their family. That is simply not enough.

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It would be unacceptable to me if any member of my staff followed in my footsteps, rushing from the maternity ward to a slide deck . When I had my third child last year, I knew it was vital to lead by example. I took a proper paternity leave this time around. Wellhub offers non-birthing parents in the U.S. 14 weeks paid leave, and 20 weeks paid leave to birthing parents. As CEO, taking this time was a clear way to say I expect this policy to be implemented to the fullest extent. This is important to me because everyone benefits when parents take time off — companies and employees alike.

Writing the New Narrative of Paternity 

Traditionally, paternity leave is viewed as a drag on the business. The dominant cultural narrative is that time off translates into output lost, a lack of company loyalty, a department hassle. 

This is the story I told myself when I took only three days off as a new father. It is not true. 

The benefits of time off far outweigh any perceived benefits of ‘powering through’ the workday with a newborn and recovering partner at home. There is not a direct correlation between the hours put in and the reward that comes out, because not all effort is created equal. An hour of focused work can be more productive than five hours of work when you’re exhausted. When I tried to be a father and a founder without creating real time for parenthood, I could not truly succeed in either role.

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It is wonderful to see the latest generation of fathers pushing back on the stigma of taking paternity leave. They are claiming the time they deserve,  and those that do reap the benefits. One hundred percent of fathers who took paternity leave are glad they did so and would do it again, according to a McKinsey study, and 9 out of ten men say it improved their relationship with their partner.  And I bet companies that offer paternity leave are just as happy to be supporting employees through these major milestones in life. 

I would encourage any man worried about taking paternity leave to remember that you work with adults. Your co-workers might be able to push on without you. It is your child that needs you. It is in your role as a parent that you are irreplaceable. A boss may notice the time you leave, but it is your child that remembers you working late. 

We need to build a world where nobody is penalized for supporting  their family, especially during the unique period of a child joining the family. It is time to redefine taking paternity leave as an act of commitment, prioritization, and focus.  

Business Benefits of Paternity Leave

The first step in writing this next chapter of paternity leave is helping leaders recognize that paid paternity leave is about more than helping employees. It can make a company stronger in so many ways — even partially paid leave can have a positive impact on employee morale, performance, productivity, and turnover. Here are some of the most salient benefits I see in my daily work.

Inclusion

Paternity leave cultivates inclusion. It is not uncommon for companies to offer some maternity leave and no paternity leave. This benefits gap reinforces a culture where women are viewed as responsible for children, exempting men from the demands of home life. 

This stereotype constructs barriers for women in the workforce. Consider that three out of five of male managers believe a woman with dependent children is less dedicated to her jobs than a woman without children, as revealed in a recent IBM-Chief joint survey.  Paternity leave cuts at the root of this prejudice. It creates a world where new mothers and new fathers can step back from work in equal measure. And when everyone is equally responsible for childcare, it eliminates preconceived notions that hold women back.   

It’s also vital that employers support our increasingly diverse family structures. Think of two fathers adopting a baby and neither of them having any time off. What type of organization is that? Any parental leave policy where all parents are encouraged to take time off fights discrimination. It builds a company culture where everyone belongs.

Retention

Voluntary turnover costs U.S. companies an estimated $1 trillion every single year, and restrictive leave policies are only contributing to that figure. 

Three out five working parents today say they are experiencing overwhelming stress. The initial adjustment to a new child can be a particularly stressful time for parents. As wonderful as a growing family is, caring for a newborn disrupts peoples’ sleep, their humor, their decision-making abilities. This is the case with your first child or your fifth. If they are not given the time necessary to find a new equilibrium, the chances of losing a great employee increases.

But expanding parental leave improves people’s ability to stay: From Noodles & Company to Aetna to Google, companies find that expanding parental leave improves retention rates. I consider that a great value proposition when replacing an employee costs, on average, a third of their annual salary.

Leadership Development

Then there’s what an employee brings back from leave. Because we're in a crisis of wellbeing, time off actually helps people come back fresh. People returning from parental leave in particular come back with even more to offer. 

I've witnessed the power of parental leave leading a team of over 1,600 employees. First and foremost, parenting hones your ability to prioritize, a critical leadership skill. You're also going to get employees with a broader perspective, more empathy, and a higher sense of responsibility and duty to others. 

Being a father has made me a better leader in so many ways. I have learned patience, empathy, new communication styles, how people evolve over time, and that some things cannot be rushed. Kids also help professionals focus more on the purpose of their work instead of just its financial returns. Leaving the world a better place is a more powerful reason to work than watching your bank account grow. This helps you engage in your work on a deeper, more spiritually rewarding level. 

Setting Paternity Leave Up for Success

My most recent leave could not have been more different than my first. This was my third time bringing home a newborn child, and I was able to apply all of the lessons I’d learned as a father.  

One of the great things about paternity leave is it’s something for which you can prepare. You know a baby is coming. Whether your partner is giving birth or you are adopting or are having a child via surrogacy, you have a runway before they arrive. Using this time to create a sound game plan allows you to successfully step back

I prepared a good process to empower the team to function more independently and for me to catch up after-the-fact. We set up clear communication channels and guidelines so I could be present with my family without worrying about the office. I also used this as an opportunity to empower my team to make more decisions, turning my paternity leave into a great professional development opportunity for those on my team.

During this leave, I bonded with my daughter and grew closer than ever with my older children. I was a supportive partner with my wife as we adjusted to our new family. The risk of burnout was nonexistent this time around. 

In fact, it was the complete opposite —  this time away from the day-to-day let me reflect on the business long-term. I came back more enthused than ever about our mission to make wellbeing universal. My paternity leave was living proof that when you take care of yourself, the rest will follow. The return on wellbeing is strong, and everyone benefits.

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Cesar Carvalho

Cesar Carvalho is the CEO & co-founder of Wellhub. Based out of Wellhub’ headquarters in New York, Carvalho oversees worldwide operations implementing the company’s overall strategy. He has previously worked at CVC, McKinsey & Company and AC Nielsen.


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