For most new dads, your paternity leave eligibility is dictated by your location. For example, fathers in Australia are legally entitled to two weeks government funded pay, while their Swedish counterparts are generously given 16-months parental leave, to be taken by either mother or father. America sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, with no mandatory parental leave at all.
But despite having no legal requirement to do so, a slew of leading tech companies in the US recognise that a paid paternity leave scheme is an enticing draw card for millennial employees, who are predicted to make up 75% of the workforce within the next decade. According to a recent survey by Ernst and Young, “millennials around the world are more likely than other generations to cite parental leave as an important benefit.”
However, for TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, a paid paternity scheme is less a means of attracting new talent as it is having the interest of his employees – and business – at heart. “Paternity leave really allows you to show your employees that you value the things that they value,” says Mycoskie, who offers all new fathers at least eight weeks paid parental leave. “And frankly, I think that men who don’t take paternity leave are really kind of worthless at work anyway, because they’re always tired because the baby’s not sleeping, and feeling guilty because the wife’s at home wishing they were there. And with guilt and tiredness you’re probably making some bad decisions for your business. So I actually think it’s just as beneficial to have them not be there.”
TOMS isn’t the only company that sees the value in a paternity leave scheme. At the end of last year, Amazon announced that new fathers would now be given six weeks paid leave, while Netflix offer unlimited parental leave within the first year after a baby is born or adopted. Of course, Facebook also offer 16 weeks paid parental leave, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking two months off following the birth of his daughter last November. What’s more, the social media company actually encourage employees to take their leave, rather than stigmatising it.
“I say this all the time, but, at least in my perspective, I think it’s one of the best benefits that Facebook offers,” says Adam Isserlis, a manager of corporate communications at Facebook who took advantage of the full 16 weeks leave following the birth of his daughter in December 2013.”We hear from our people that it really matters to them, they care about it, and take it, which is fantastic,” says Lori Goler, head of human resources at Facebook. And it’s not just the big guns – smaller start-ups like business intel company Mattermark, that only grew to 15 employees in 2014, has begun offering 12 weeks paternity leave for their employees too.
“We realised we needed to be conscious of family leave if we wanted to respect people’s lives outside of work, even if no one had kids yet,” Mattermark COO Andy Sparks told The Atlantic.
This progressive attitude to paternity (and parental leave in general), says Josh Levs, author of the book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and, Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together, is not common practice. “Within that sliver of America, where there’s any paid paternity leave available, the vast majority goes unused,” he says, adding that it’s difficult for new fathers to take their leave when their bosses are forgoing the benefit.
But for Mycoskie, who took 12 weeks of paternity leave in 2015, forgoing the opportunity to bond with his family was never an option. He even went as far as uninstalling his email from his phone to avoid being drawn into working from home. “I just didn’t want to be tempted because emails are a very slippery slope,” he explains. “You start doing one or two emails and peek at it, and the next thing you know you go down the rabbit hole and you’re in there for hours upon hours and every email that you send is another email you get returned.”
Overall, Mycoskie found the whole experience invaluable. “I think it was really wonderful for my family,” he says. “I think it was a way that my wife and I could really connect at an equal level, because she saw me supporting her so much and also connecting with our son.”
Here are a few ways a small start-up can explore the idea of paternity leave without worrying about the bottom line.
Read the full interview with TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, written by Tara Francis, in Issue 32, out now.