I expect my male employees to take six months of paternity leave - and it's good for business

Following Labour's pledge to double paternity leave, Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Torstensson says his male employees take months off when they become fathers - and it works.

by Henrik Torstensson
Last Updated: 16 Nov 2015

After announcements about extending paternity or parental leave – like Labour leader Ed Miliband’s recent pledge to double paternity leave and increase pay, commentators often refer to the much lauded 'Nordic system'.

As a Swedish CEO I am part of that system. Dads in Sweden are entitled to 10 paid days (80% of salary up to a certain limit) away from work after their child's birth. Then, Swedish parents are entitled to a total of 480 days of leave, paid at up to 80% of their salary (with a cap of £2,300 per month, before tax) following the birth or adoption of a child. Each parent is entitled to take at least 60 days of this allowance, and the rest can be split as parents wish. This ensures all new fathers have the opportunity to spend at the least two months of their child's early life at home with them.

The Swedish government's policy, along with the shifting of attitudes regarding gender roles in parenting, has led to a significant change in the amount of leave taken by fathers: in 1980, only 5% of parental leave was taken by men. It increased to 17% in 2003 – an improvement, but still not at the level it is today.

The real change came in 2008, when our ‘equality bonus’ was introduced to reward the more equal use of parental days. Today, 25% of all parental leave is taken by men. On average, the father of a newborn in Sweden will take four months off work. In young, creative companies it is not uncommon for fathers to take six months or more of paternity leave.

It all sounds brilliant, doesn't it? But what about the cost to businesses? I run one such company, and I fully expect my male employees to take six months off at some point during their child’s early life.

When our employees - both male and female - take time off to be with their children, it's good for us in the long-term. Firstly, it means that the impact of the major career roadblock women can experience is much reduced. Paternity leave is an important factor in making sure women can advance their careers as quickly as men, and this is one way to close the gender pay gap. We need these talented women - like many other Swedish companies, we believe in gender equality, and that being a mixed, diverse team is crucial to our success.

Of course, it is a challenge for us to be without a valued member of staff for a period of time, but it's a short-term challenge - and it also offers opportunities. Fathers and mothers being away from work gives me and the rest of the management team a chance to give more responsibility to newer employees, and see how they react to taking on a bigger role. All businesses should build their capacity to deal with new situations, and we've found that doing so is highly valuable in today's fast-moving world.

As a company, we've been continuously growing; we've gone from five to 33 employees in the last two years, and we will continue to grow over the next few years. Being able to give people more responsibility, ahead of a full promotion, has worked for us, because we've have always had more work to do when the mother or father is back in the office, meaning responsibility needs sharing more widely.

In the long-term, too, that individual is happier and a better colleague and employee, because he or she has been given the opportunity to do what's best for their family. I love it when we have every team member in the office every day, but I also know that our long-term success is reliant on happy and creative employees. Proper paternity leave is a crucial part of that.

Henrik Torstensson is CEO of Swedish health app Lifesum.

A version of this article first appeared on Mumsnet.

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