Social media entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg made history by embarking on a two-month long paternity leave. When he announced his intention to spend uninterrupted time with his baby, many applauded his decision.
“It is courageous of Zuckerberg to lead by example and set the precedent that no job is more important than being a parent,” says Nick Haase, CEO and co-founder of mobile marketing platform Loot! “Even more impressive is the buy-in and support he has had from the business community and even Wall Street.”
Zuckerberg’s unconventional decision was surprising, adds Piyush Jain, CEO of SIMpalm. “I have never seen a male CEO take paternity leave for that long before. He is a trendsetter sending out a message to businesses that fathers should spend more time with their newborns.”
Paternity (and Even Maternity) Leave Unusual
“In today’s constantly connected business world, it’s very unusual for someone in a position of leadership to take time off to vacation, let alone an extended leave for family time,” says Heidi Hanna, CEO and founder of Synergy and author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress. “Here in the U.S., we are among the worst when it comes to not using vacation time, and even when we do leave the office, our mental energy often stays with work.”
Paternity leave still has a long way to go before mainstream acceptance, Haase agrees. “Progressive paternity leave laws are in place in Europe, and they’ve shown great developmental benefits to the children and families. While I'm not in favor of a paternity law, I hope companies will appreciate the importance of adopting policies that progressive tech companies like Facebook and Google have adopted.”
—Nick Haase, CEO and co-founder, Loot!
Benefits of Paternity Leave
Paternity leave for employees that allows for both parents to care for a newborn diminishes the chronic stress that can occur if one parent is at work worrying about what is going on at home, Hanna believes.
“Having a newborn in the house is known for causing sleep and energy deprivation for both parents, which can wear on health and performance," says Hanna. "Paternity leave allows employees to recover from the stress of being new parents, because even good stress can cause a negative response when we don’t have enough recovery. Employees are also grateful for the opportunity, which can increase engagement, loyalty and even future performance.”
Ryan Shortill, founder and CEO of Positive Adventures, took paternity leave and says, “One of our core values at the company is family first. I love my family and wanted to be available and a solid support to my wife. This kind of support allows pure bonding with the new child and helps foster stronger family bonds. I have my whole life to work and only a short time to be with my young children. I was unwilling to accept possible regret. I do recognize that my choice was in the minority and that I had the option when so many of our nation’s fathers do not.”
Incorporating Paternity Leave
Offering paternity leave to employees can, of course, be easier said than done when you’re running a small business on a tight budget and within a limited infrastructure. “Paternity leave isn’t as taxing to big corporations as it is to small businesses,” Haase says. “Small businesses are put in very tough positions regarding leave, as each employee is likely a vital cog to operations. It's because of these challenges that I feel the issue should be left to corporations, rather than made into law.”
Ideally, every father could take one to two months off, but if you can only afford to give employees a week or two, then you should do so, Haase suggests. “If time off isn’t possible, consider flexible work hours, work from home and even small, congratulatory bonuses to new parents to help alleviate the stress that comes with a new child. Any gesture honoring the fact that they’re new parents goes a long way toward creating happy employees.”
Jain agrees. “Small businesses may find it difficult to give paternity leave from a financial or day-to-day operation perspective, and finding replacement help can also be difficult, especially if your business is specialized,” he says. “If a small business grants an extended paternity leave, that means taking a big cut in business. When business owners and managers take a creative approach, however, they can find solutions, such as having other employees fill in for the employee on leave. A leave exchange could be created among employees.”
The financial costs of offering employees even a short paternity leave may likely save you money in the long run, Hanna claims. “There may be a financial cost of paying someone to fill in temporarily, but the reality is that when most people have such significant change at home, even when they’re able to physically be in the office, their performance may suffer. Without adequate recovery, this may lead to chronic stress or burnout, which could diminish performance and ultimately cost the organization more over time.”
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A version of this article was originally published on December 3, 2015.