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Working dads miss out on family life

With a government consultation on parental leave reform underway, research reveals that current entitlements cause working fathers to suffer emotionally and mentally after the birth of a child

Most working fathers feel the amount of paternity leave they have taken isn’t enough for them to bond with their children, according to research from Zurich.

Forty per cent of fathers of zero- to five-year-olds said that on returning to work they didn’t feel they’d spent enough time with their family, while 26% said they felt too tired and that performing their job was difficult.

Just under half (49%) said they took between 11 and 14 days of statutory paternity leave, 30% took between four and 10 days, 6% took one to three days and 15% took no time off at all.

Almost half (45%) of those who didn’t take any paternity leave said they couldn’t afford a drop in their pay for two weeks. A further fifth (23%) blamed a heavy workload.

The amount of leave taken is in stark contrast to the amount of time dads would like to take, the research found. When asked if they’d take 16 weeks' paid paternity leave if it was offered by their employer 77% said yes. The majority (67%) said they’d choose up to 20 weeks and 25% said they’d take more than 21 weeks if they could.

The research showed that this gap between preference and reality is taking its toll, with almost three-quarters (72%) agreeing that new fathers tend to suffer emotionally and mentally after the birth of a child and with juggling the demands of returning to work.

In July the government announced plans to reform the benefits available to new working parents. Then-prime minister Theresa May launched a consultation calling for views on changes to parental leave entitlements, including additional time off and pay for new fathers. Under the current law new fathers are entitled to either one or two weeks’ paternity leave.

The Zurich research follows the insurance firm recently publishing new family-friendly policies for its 4,500 UK employees. These include: up to 16 weeks' full pay for all parents, support for families whose children are born prematurely with additional paid leave for the premature period, paid leave to support staff through the IVF process, paid leave to support people who've miscarried, a refreshed policy for those with caring responsibilities, and a new bereavement and compassionate leave policy.

Steve Collinson, head of HR in the UK at Zurich, said the policies are all part of the organisation's aim to be as inclusive as possible. “Families have changed, work has changed, but too many organisations still have policies around families that are stuck in the 1980s. We have always said that as a business we want to offer as many opportunities to the widest range of people possible. We’re incredibly excited to be able to announce this; it just seemed like the logical thing to do,” he said.

Collinson added that employers and policymakers are making headway in supporting working families: “I don’t believe that organisations discriminate against working fathers and doing so would violate employment law. In terms of policy there is always more that the government could be doing around flexible working, but we are definitely on the right track. For organisations, I would say that we have to remember to keep investing in our people. It makes no sense to justify more spending on technology and IT while forgetting about our biggest asset.”

Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon and minister for disabled people, health and work, welcomed Zurich's commitment. “Zurich’s equalisation of maternity and paternity leave and broader approach to family-friendly working is an excellent example of a big UK employer leading the way. Working practices like these help to support gender equality and create more diverse and inclusive workplaces,” he said.

“As a first-time father this year I’m acutely aware of how important the first few weeks and months are, and allowing both parents to share this time helps to develop important family bonds.”

OnePoll surveyed 1,000 fathers of zero- to five-year-olds, who were full-time employed, heterosexual and not business owners, on behalf of Zurich.