Becoming a parent is a significant milestone. Many countries support workers with national policies. The United States doesn’t have nationwide policies that give employees paid parental leave, while about 70 countries in the world provide it. Fathers are often left out when it comes to stay-at-home opportunities after their children are born, but more and more dads, according to a Boston College study, are interested in paternity leave.
Chris Duchesne, vice president of global workplace solutions at Care.com, has 15 years of experience creating care programs for corporations, their employees and families. As a father of three children, Duchesne knows firsthand the difficulties of balancing parenting duties with work duties.
Diversity Executive had the opportunity to interview Duchesne. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How are paternity and maternity leave changing in the workforce?
Modern dads are sending the message that they want to be involved in their children’s lives from the very beginning, that being the birth of their child and paternity leave. In fact, a new study from Boston College’s Center for Work & Family showed almost 90 percent of working fathers think it’s important for employers to provide paid paternity or parental leave.
Nevertheless, awareness is spreading faster than implementation. The U.S., as a whole, still lags behind other developed nations when it comes to parental-leave policies — not just in paternity leave but maternity leave as well. Most working mothers and fathers do not have access to paid parental leave. But we are seeing some progress. On the state level, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have paid family and medical leave, supported by employee-paid payroll taxes. And we have FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act, but the law only provides job protection for employees at companies with 50 or more employees. But right now, for the most part, it falls to the employers themselves to provide paid leave. Some do. Many industry leaders considered as best places to work are taking work-family issues seriously, beginning with paid leave for mothers and fathers.
What are the challenges a returning parent faces post-leave?
Child care, for most families, is the biggest challenge. Juggling the responsibilities of a new child with catching up and staying on top of duties at work is a big challenges parents face after returning from leave.
What are some ways to deal with those challenges, from the perspective of the worker, and from the perspective of management?
From the employer’s perspective, dealing with these challenges really begins from the top-down.
As far as child care, which is actually the biggest budget item for many families, companies can reduce a layer of stress by offering care assistance benefits. There are dependent care assistance programs to help cover the cost of child care, and resource and referral or emergency backup-care programs to help families find high-quality care providers.
In terms of dealing with juggling work and home responsibilities, that’s where management comes in. It’s one thing to talk about flex work, telecommuting or taking time for family, but if employees don’t feel empowered to utilize those options, then they won’t do it. There needs to be a culture of permission, where those flexible options are truly available to everyone.
Post-leave, what are some good ways to achieve a work-life balance? What can companies do to help out?
A good starting point is to think about work-life in terms of integration instead of balance. Balance implies opposing sides and that the two should be equal. In the modern workplace, we’re seeing employers and employees working together around work-life and work-family issues to find solutions. Flexible work arrangements are a big one — allowing employees the flexibility to make doctor’s appointments or soccer games during the day with the expectation that they’ll make up the time or tasks at some other point.
What can work colleagues do to make the transition back to work smoother and be more supportive?
I think it really comes down, again, to culture. When an employee goes out on leave, that’s an opportunity for his or her team to really come together and grow stronger as they help to complete projects and fulfill responsibilities in their absence. That doesn’t have to stop when he or she comes back from leave — there’s going to be that adjustment period, and the team can be there to pick up the slack as needed.
In addition to that, some companies have set up new parent support groups, where employees can informally turn to that group for support and advice on things from work-life integration to car seats and strollers.