Concrete business benefits of parental absence and how to reap them

A new quantitative survey shows which challenges working parents are still facing before – and what they and the company can gain from managing parental leave well. Many robust solutions are available today to make temporary absence – of whoever and for whatever reasons – a success.

In many countries, young fathers are increasingly utilising the given opportunity to participate in and contribute to the raising of their new-born child. A recent international survey, for example, shows that 56% of parents would like to make use of the scheme that is offered. It seems to confirm hopes that when a sizeable group of men take up a good or even fair share of parental work and duties, the associated stigma would be reduced for women in the workplace – where it also hits females without children, our research shows. Latest data show, however, that every second father (53%) fears judgement for taking parental leave – although it is very often only a fraction of the one of mothers.

NB: Earlier research suggests that men, seeking parental leave are seen more favourably than women

Quantifying fears forms part of the business case for flexibility

International data taken from a survey of 7,087 working parents in the UK, the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and India, provides indications, that by and large, the corporate and leadership cultures have not yet changed dramatically in favour of temporary absence: Over half of the 1,023 UK-based respondents (56%) agreed that their career progression slowed down after they had a child, 24% strongly. This experienced loss in career momentum spells out similarly for the genders covered by the survey: 54% of men and 59% of women confirmed the phenomenon. On the other hand, an increasing body of research shows concrete, large gains for both parents and employers, when absence is managed well, most notably

  • Retaining qualified, trained talent (and not needing to replace it)
  • Benefitting from transferrable skills parents acquire while managing parenthood

The current survey provides data to illustrate both the amount and the areas of the latter: 58% of working parents (in the UK) said they would return to work equipped with improved skills: from multi-tasking to negotiations, parenthood is on-the-job training of a unique kind. Mothers (m) and father (f) agree on 4 of the 5 top skills that working parents improve during parental leave:

  • Organisational skills 45.8 (m) – 50.1% (f)
  • Time management/Personal organisation 42.0 (m) – 46.7% (f)
  • Networking 35.5 (m) – 48% (f)
  • Managing personal wellbeing 32.9 – 46.8% (f)

In addition, fathers see that their leadership skills increase (48.2 % = rank 2 for fathers)and mothers experience an improvement of their bounce back ability/resilience (36.5% = rank 3). “It is one of the many results that confirm both the vast similarities of men and women in the workplace and still highlight one difference that says a lot about gender dynamics and related equality issues”, Michael Stuber, The D&I Engineers, comments these results with a subtle smile. He know both the importance and the practicalities of addressing gender and related mindset issues.

Practically realising business benefits and make it work

While earlier initiatives used to focus on the perspective (e.g. ), organisations start to realise that a more holistic and inclusive approach will not only be more powerful, it is also more efficient and much more accepted as well. “Companies need to start considering different form of absence in the same way”, Stuber explains one of his ground rules for success in this area. For managing the period of absence itself, covering all the phases prior to, during and after the return, has become a wide-spread good practice. However, Stuber is surprised that only few companies are utilising each of the phases as opportunities to maximise the positive impact of a temporary absence, and he provides three examples:

  • “Prior to the leave, the temporary vacancy provides a chance to rotate an employee into the position, including from abroad – a must sought-after need in companies to create more collaboration across entities
  • During the leave, offer a 10% contract that not only saves the expense of creating a compliant dis-connect, it also offers a clear framework to stay in touch – and even to provide a pay raise or promotion based on previous achievement
  • After the return, the newly acquired competencies should be considered in determining the career path forward and return rates should become a standard KPI for managers (as it offers business benefits and is a driver for overall D&I success)”

The current Talking Talent / Censuswide survey mentioned above also recommends coaching or handing out valuable advice to parents-to-be before they take parental leave.

Do not repeat past mistakes

Achieving equality by evenly punishing the genders is not what future-oriented people management should be about. Organisations have to make sure that working fathers do not face the same obstacles that have slowed or stopped the progression of working mothers in the past. This is even truer in a smart VUCA workplace, where new technology makes it a lot easier to manage off and on-ramps and where the specific transferrable skills acquired by parents during parental leave are needed.


Further reading

On leadership culture & flexibility: