In traditional, heterosexual families, we often imagine a new mother taking time off work to bond with and care for a newborn, while the father returns to the office to support the family. The dad may have a few weeks of leave granted by their company, but the expectation is for them to return to work—often like a major life event didn’t happen—and to pick up where they left off. 

But what happens when new dads need support beyond time off? What happens when they’re up late every night for feedings, or struggling to balance pediatrician appointments and work? What if the dad is the primary caretaker? And what about LGBTQIA+ families where the roles, needs, and expectations are completely different?

It’s clear that a gendered approach to parenting benefits can negatively impact dads: just like moms, they need support beyond parental leave. But what do those paternity benefits look like? And what are leading companies doing today? Let’s dive in.

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It’s time to rethink paternity leave and benefits

The pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with work, especially for those with families. Millions of parents faced burnout as a result of increased childcare responsibilities and the sudden loss of childcare services. Millions more have left the workforce, whether due to economic conditions or the pressing needs of their families, and it’s unclear if they’ll ever return. 

In this talent-led market, employers are looking for new and innovative ways to attract and retain talent long-term. People are looking for places to work where their personal lives are respected and supported, and especially their families. Adding paternity benefits, in addition to paternity leave, can help your organization stand out from the crowd and fulfil your DE&I goals by supporting all types of families and all paths to parenthood.

Paternity leave basics

Paternity leave is paid or unpaid leave granted to fathers after the birth of a new child. The Family and Medical Leave Act provisions protected unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks for eligible employees, but some organizations go further, offering some form of paid leave for new fathers as well. These programs are usually framed as parental leave or caregiver leave.

However, unlike maternity leave, men often don’t take paternity leave, and are typically offered paid leave for a far shorter period of time than female counterparts. A 2020 study of 352 Fortune 500 companies found that 28% had no paternity leave policies at all. Of those who do offer paternity leave, the average time offered is five weeks, compared to ten for maternity leave. A 2019 Pew Research study found that among OECD countries, only the US lacks government-mandated paid parental leave.

Some companies are shifting towards parental leave policies to be more inclusive of non-traditional family structures. Although some retain a primary and secondary caretaker designation, in general adopting a “paid parental leave” approach detaches gender from the process. Paid paternity leave typically runs concurrently with FMLA-allowed leave, meaning if a new parent opts to take their paid leave, they won’t also be able to take additional unpaid leave.

Why is paternity leave important?

The postpartum period is crucial for the health of both a newborn and a father. Traumatic birthing experiences, postpartum complications, or even difficulties adjusting to life with a child can negatively impact the physical and emotional health of new fathers.

One in ten fathers are diagnosed with paternal postpartum disorder (PPD), with a moderate positive correlation with maternal PPD. Fathers often report “questioning the legitimacy of their experiences” with trauma in the postpartum period. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report found that up to 70% of new fathers don’t take any leave whatsoever.

Paid paternity leave offers new dads an opportunity to adjust to parenthood and enjoy critical bonding experiences with their newborn child. Studies show that fathers who are more involved in early childhood development “can positively impact their baby’s cognitive development.” Paid family leave has a positive impact on mental health for parents as well. 

Paternity leave is only one part of the paternity benefits equation

Just as many companies are awakening to the gaps in care facing moms during the family building process, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that dads need more help than what’s currently available, too. Dads often lack access to educational resources about family building, and often interface with a healthcare system that is biased towards the family-building experience of heterosexual cisgendered women. 

To truly help aspiring, expecting, and new dads, employers are starting to explore paternity benefits in addition to paid paternity leave.

What are comprehensive paternity benefits?

In the battle against burnout, offering inclusive and comprehensive benefits to working parents is key to keeping employees satisfied and loyal for the long run. Comprehensive paternity benefits, rolled into a larger family benefits offering, provide whole-person care to fathers, regardless of their demographics or path to parenthood. Whether they’re single fathers looking to adopt, a same-sex couples pursuing surrogacy, or a heterosexual couple undergoing fertility treatments, paternity benefits cover all the bases to be inclusive of all families. 

Fertility, surrogacy, and adoption support

Infertility affects up to 15% of couples annually, and studies show that up to 50% of infertility cases are due to male factor infertility. For same-sex couples, fertility treatments are crucial to the surrogacy process. Fertility benefits can offer financial reimbursement for medications and treatments, educational materials, clinic discounts, and more.

For couples facing infertility, same-sex couples, and single parents by choice, surrogacy and adoption are some of the only viable ways to build a family. However, either path can be prohibitively expensive and subject to complex legal pathways, especially for same-sex couples. Offering support in the form of reimbursement, comparable leave, emotional support, and educational resources can help.

Pregnancy education and resources

Dads and male-identifying individuals alike play an important supporting role during and immediately after pregnancy. However, studies show there are gaps between male involvement and education about pregnancy care. Pre and postnatal classes are shown to have positive impacts on pregnancy outcomes, but there are several barriers to entry. 

When parents don’t have clinically-vetted resources, they often turn to social media in lieu of friends or family. These groups, forums, and posts are often littered with misinformation and toxic participants that can do more harm than good: a recent study found, “outcome measures suggest that higher use of digital media can have a potentially negative effect on psychological well-being.” Providing access to vetted resources and classes through paternity benefits can improve outcomes and circumvent the pressure posed by social media forums.

Postpartum and parenting support

In the postpartum period, dads need continuous support for their physical and mental health. The postpartum period is often referred to as the “fourth trimester” because moms and dads alike must  adjust to life with a newborn: feeding schedules, naptime, and the responsibility of taking care of a child can significantly impact the emotional and physical health of parents. If the parents experienced complications or a traumatic delivery, the likelihood of postpartum depression skyrockets.

In this critical phase, dads, who are taking on more of the childcare burden than ever before, need consistent access to resources. Specialty care providers like infant sleep coaches, lactation consultants, career coaches, and mental health specialists, can improve health outcomes and increase the likelihood that dads can successfully return to work, stay productive, and remain in their role for the long run. Providing access to these additional resources goes beyond your health plan: investing in a telehealth solution that offers 24/7 access to providers and resources can give new dads the care they need.

How can employers support aspiring, expecting, and new fathers?

Supporting aspiring, expecting, and new fathers from any path to parenthood requires a combination of inclusive benefits, policies, and culture. Here a few tips to get started:

Cultivate a positive paternity leave culture

Paternity leave, especially paid paternity leave, has ample benefits for dads and their families, and can lead to improved employee loyalty and productivity. The main barriers preventing dads from taking the leave that’s available to them include the financial costs of taking unpaid leave, the expectation that men are supposed to be the “bread-winner,” and fears that leave will impact their career. Creating a positive paternity leave culture from the top-down can encourage men in your organization to take the leave that’s afforded to them, especially when they see the behavior modeled by executives or managers.

Establish inclusive policies for working parents

Differentiating leave based on gender or caretaking roles can negatively impact underrepresented groups in your organization. Establishing inclusive policies that impact all types of families can improve your D&I initiatives. These policies can include:

  • Changing maternity and paternity leave to parental leave
  • Incorporating LGBTQIA+ perspectives into materials
  • Making communications gender-neutral and inclusive

Create a return-to-work plan for new fathers

When an expecting dad prepares for a new baby, it can be beneficial for them to have a return-to-work plan. This plan can include milestones, resources, relevant benefits, and timelines. Distribute these plans to people leaders and managers so they can work on them with their employees as-needed, to help improve benefits engagement and return-to-work rate.

Invest in a family-building benefit

Investing in an inclusive, comprehensive family-building benefit can provide new dads in your organization with the tools, resources, and providers they need to navigate the challenges of fatherhood. Maven’s innovative care model can offer your employees 24/7 access to virtual family-building care for any path to parenthood, with providers spanning 30 different family health specialties. To find out how Maven can help dads in your organization, contact us today.

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