Why working dads need better support

Leaders offer a case for extending the company's paid paternity leave policy

Why working dads need better support

There’s a prevailing perception in Singapore that mothers remain the best caregivers for their children. Even stay-at-home fathers believed the line to be true, despite having spent plenty of time raising their children while their wives were out to work, based on a recent study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). The study suggested that the stereotype may be perpetuated by societal norms and stigma around fixed gender roles, including from family members and friends.

Additionally, fathers interviewed for the study mentioned that there was a lack of support from employers and co-workers for them to play more active roles at home. Working fathers, however, do want to get more involved and have been voicing it out for years. Besides a lack of employer support, the IPS study, released in 2020, highlighted that legislated family policies, such as limits on paid paternity leave, continue to signal childcare as primarily a woman’s responsibility and reinforces gender stereotypes.

Read more: How to support working parents post-pandemic

Paid paternity leave entitlement in Singapore

For instance, compared with the mandatory 16 weeks given to working mums, eligible fathers are only entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave. What’s more, this entitlement is tied to several terms and conditions such as:

  • Your child must be a Singapore citizen, or you must declare plans to apply for their citizenship within 12 months of their birth.
  • You are lawfully married to the child’s mother.
  • You have served your employer for a continuous period of at least three months before the birth.

The same conditions applied to adoptive fathers as well. Also, while the government-paid paternity leave is an automatic entitlement for locals under the Employment Act, you may miss out on the benefit if you’re a permanent resident or foreigner under a work pass. In that case, you’d only be eligible for paternity leave if your child is a Singapore citizen. If not, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stated that it’s up to the employer to grant the paid leave or not.

Read more: Are leaders doing enough to support working fathers?

Will Singapore extend paternity leave policy?

Regardless, MOM has consistently urged employers to adopt inclusive and progressive policies, including offering family-friendly measures to help staff balance work and family commitments, thereby boosting performance and engagement. Also, besides the official two weeks, working dads in Singapore can apply to share up to four additional weeks of parental leave with the wives. This, however, will be taken out of the mandatory 16 weeks of maternity leave and is therefore subject to the wife’s agreement.

While the move to offer shared parental leave, made in 2017, was meant to show more support for working parents, the IPS study found it a little problematic. As the extra four weeks came out of a working mum’s entitlement, it may dissuade fathers from taking the extra time off to care for their children. IPS recommended that instead of sharing parenting leave, companies offer separate blocks of “exclusive” and “non-transferable” leave to fathers and mothers to care for their children. This could help normalise fathers as the primary caregiver of the family, said the study.

Read more: Revealed: Best companies for working dads

The case for offering equal parental leave

Unfortunately, it may be a while before Singapore officially extends paid paternity leave. Advocates like researchers of the IPS study have repeatedly tried their luck to push for change, however MOM has made clear that there were currently no plans to expand the policy.

Employers can, of course, do so on their own discretion – and many companies have taken the leap to offer better support to employees. One such organisation is Syngenta, a global agricultural science and technology firm. Since January 1st, 2021, employees can take up to eight weeks of paternity leave. Also, instead of taken as ‘block leave’, the eight weeks can be broken up across a span of one year, for example, depending on the family’s needs.

Armaan Seth, head of HR at Syngenta Asia Pacific told HRD the design of the upgraded policy was based on feedback from both male and female employees, as well as their strategy around the future of work. ‘Flexi-work’ is often raised when discussing the future of work, and Syngenta believed that offering equal parental benefits was one way to enable equity as well as support employees’ desire for flexibility.

“One of the biggest events in a person’s life is when they welcome a baby to their family,” Seth told HRD. “Because of some of the policies that organisations have, the burden of raising the baby falls on the woman more than the man.” When they were ‘co-creating’ the policy with staff, female employees told the leadership team that in the first one or two months after childbirth, the burden of responsibility will always fall more on the mother due to various reasons.

Therefore, employees would much rather have their partner present and helping over a longer period of time and after “things were a bit more settled” for the mother and newborn. This was why they decided to offer a flexible option for the upgraded paternity leave. It allowed employees time to bond with their baby and to support their spouse’s transition back to work. “Flexibility was key,” he said. “And I think it’s been appreciated by our employees because a lot of them had children in the past [and] they’ve seen that sometimes two weeks wasn’t enough.”

Read more: Most working dads would quit over flexi-work

Build an empathetic and inclusive culture

While offering equal parental leave is ideal, one CEO admitted that expanding such policies is highly dependent on whether a company can afford to do so. As a father himself, Bryan Tan, CEO at Centre for Fathering, a non-profit organisation, said that besides the minimum two weeks of paternity leave, working dads have the option to take annual leave or childcare leave to attend to the family.

Beyond offering additional leave days, employers should also focus on building a culture that doesn’t discriminate against employees who take time off to care for their family, whether it’s for their spouse, children, elderly parents or even siblings. Enabling an empathetic, understanding and family-friendly culture would go a long way in engaging employees. It can also encourage take up rate of personal leave days, on the off chance that the company does decide to offer equal parental leave in the future.

“I think moving forward, we realise that not only do we have to engage the hearts and minds of our employees,” Tan told HRD. “Family engagement becomes important too. We need to equip our employees not just to run the race or thrive as leaders at the workplace – but also to thrive as leaders in their own families.

“They need to be able to support [and] be there for their family, so work-life integration becomes key. We need to ensure that our company policies and practices matches the needs of our employees, and the lifecycle-stage needs of their family. So, policies must be more family centric. And I think importantly, the culture has to be conducive for everyone to be able to bring their family up…and there should not be any discrimination when somebody chooses to tend to the family for a period or a season.”

Recent articles & video

42% of HR leaders say it’s difficult to involve managers in driving meaningful change

Singapore unicorn doubles down on DIB amidst talent shortage

Hotel Ava introduces 'radical changes' for employment benefits

Research by Simmons & Simmons reveals happiness in Asian legal sector

Most Read Articles

The Metaverse is coming for HR – here's what to expect

Singaporeans prefer flexibility over four-day work weeks

Hybrid, remote work to boost demand for gig workers