Have the politicians got it wrong on paternity leave?

With more paternity rights on the agenda, is the Government underestimating the impact on business?

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The new rules on paternity leave, introduced this week, were expected to have a relatively small impact on businesses. Or at least that's what the Government seemed to think: it suggested that just 6% of new dads were likely to take advantage. However, some new research by YouGov and consultancy Croner casts doubt on this - they found that nearly half of under-35s who were married (or quasi-married) were keen to take the extra time off work. It seems to be a generational thing: the younger the employee, the more likely they were to want it. That's good news for work-life balance advocates. But it does suggest that it may turn out to be a bigger deal for business owners than the Government is admitting - particularly since Labour's apparently about to announce even more rights for new fathers...

Currently, men get two weeks of paid paternity leave. Under the new rules, they'll become eligible (assuming sufficient length of service etc) to take up to 26 weeks of Additional Paternity Leave during the first year of the baby's life, once the mother has gone back to work. And that might not be all: according to today's Mirror, when Labour launches its Election manifesto next week, it will announce a new 'Father's Month' - which will entitle new dads to a whole month of paid leave in the baby's first year. There's no need for employers to panic just yet; although the new deal comes into force this week, it will only apply to babies born from next April. But it does suggest that the disruption to businesses may be greater than they've been led to believe.

So why the discrepancy? Well, it looks like the Government hasn't factored in a cultural shift that seems to be taking place among the younger generation. 63% of 18-24 year-olds said they'd take the extra paternity leave, compared to 40% of 25-34 year olds, 19% of 45-54 year olds, and 13% of over 55s. In other words. the younger the employee, the more likely they were to want the extra time with their baby. We suspect this trend will continue over time. Already men seem a lot less worried about the effect on their career of taking paternity leave; just 4% said they were worried about what their colleagues would say or the effect on their status.

We fully subscribe to the view that a better work-life balance leads to happier, more effective workers. So it's good to see that men seem to be more interested in getting involved in childcare - particularly as it makes it easier for women to return to the workplace after maternity leave. But it sounds like the Government is giving a false impression of how significant the impact on business will be...


In today's bulletin:

Cameron denies claims of 40,000 public sector job cuts
Cadbury tests public support with Cocoa House chain
Have the politicians got it wrong on paternity leave?
Editor's blog: Let's hear it for middle managers
A Traveller's Tale: Syria's uncertain future

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