This module of the Toolkit is designed to support SME’s effectively communicate leave policies and support for fathers in the business. The module contains a variety of resources which can be adapted in line with your particular business needs and the needs of your employees.
Why is it important to support working fathers?
Research from the University of Birmingham has shown that effective communication is very important in making fathers feel supported. Ineffective communication can mean employees are not aware of the policies and support the organisation offers. For example, while Shared Parental Leave (SPL) offers parents and fathers in particular the opportunity to spend time with their child in the first year (either in conjunction with the other parent or alone) many employees and fathers have never heard of the policy. Even when employees are aware of SPL they can often be unclear about how it could work for them or their family. Improved communication will help to overcome this lack of awareness and understanding, allowing parents to make choices which are right for their family.
Research suggests that many employers believe that having family-friendly options within an organisation helps to improve workers’ motivation, productivity, employer-employee relations and staff retention. In addition, employers have noted a range of business benefits associated with family-friendly employment practices and policies including: above average financial performance, improvements in quality performance and rising sales values. More information on the business benefits of supporting fathers can be found here.
Why is improving communication around policies important for your employees and your business?
Research has shown that traditional gender roles are still present with women taking on more unpaid work in the home, including childcare and housework, which can impact on a women’s attachment to the workforce. At the same time fathers are increasingly reporting a desire to spend more time looking after their children within the first year after birth or adoption, which highlights a growing desire to be able to use policies like SPL and Paternity Leave. Communication to improve awareness and help break down barriers to family friendly policies can help fathers use these policies, leading to improved outcomes for the family and the child. It can also give mothers more options regarding their caring in the first year as some mothers express a desire to return to work earlier if the other parent is able to look after the child.
SPL, along with policies like Paternity Leave and Unpaid Parental Leave, allows fathers the opportunity to share caring responsibilities more equally within the home after the birth of a child or an adoption has taken place. A steady increase in the use of SPL since its introduction in 2015 demonstrates a need for such policies. However, as with all new policies, particularly ones which are part of significant cultural changes, take-up rates are still relatively low and there remains a lack of knowledge around how policies like this work and could be helpful to ordinary families.
The benefits of fathers taking on longer periods of parental leave are extensive including: marital/ relationship stability, child development, labour market attachment for mothers, improved well-being and employee loyalty. Despite these benefits, fathers are often concerned about the impact of flexible working practices and taking longer periods of leave on their career opportunities, and can be nervous about asking for more information. It is for this reason that effectively communicating parental leave policies and flexible working opportunities to employees, particularly fathers, is critically important.
What can you do as a business?
Policies can be distributed and shared with employees in a variety of innovative ways. Some of those ways are outlined in this Toolkit and designed for you to engage and capture the attention of parents, especially fathers or fathers-to-be within your workplace. In addition to policies being effectively communicated to employees, it is important that the organisational culture is consistent with the ways in which families are supported through these policies. One way to do this is to make sure that senior management are aware of and understand the importance of Paternity Leave, SPL and other policies.
Top tips for effective communication
Messages should be simple and accessible
It is important to avoid overwhelming employees with information about policies or support groups available. Too many details may deter an employee from reading the information or it could make the policy appear overly complex. In this instance, using diagrams or figures to simplify how the Information is conveyed may help.
Try to avoid unnecessary repetition as people may tune out
Research does highlight the benefit of repetition for learning but , too much information may be viewed as overwhelming within the context of policy information, and the length of the information may be off-putting for the employee.
Carefully consider where information is placed
Keep an eye out for locations where information can be received by a captive audience e.g., toilet doors, by a water fountain, communal areas, lift doors and so on. However, don’t forget people who may work remotely, and ensure the dissemination is as wide as possible and on online platforms too.
Consider identifying a “Fatherhood Champion“
A “Champion” is a visible person within your business who can serve both as a case study of what is possible, but also as an advocate for your business’ policies. More details can be found below. For smaller businesses which may never have had any fathers taking extended periods of leave consider using a generic champion poster like the one here which can inspire fathers to think about using this type of leave.
Where possible let people know where to look or who to speak to so that they can find out more
Many companies have a range of great parenting policies, but awareness amongst employees can be patchy and misinformation and confusion may exist. Having an accessible and prominent place to get further information is key. One way of ensuring this is in setting up a ‘Parenting Passport’.
A “fatherhood Champion” is a person who has successfully balanced his parenting and working life. That could mean he has flexible hours to allow him to pick his kids up from school, it may mean he has taken Shared Parental Leave, or it may just mean that he has made a commitment to leaving on time! If you do not have anyone appropriate in your organisation we have a generic example from another organisation here. Posters featuring champions can inspire fathers to look into taking caring leave. These can be generic if you do not have an appropriate person in your business.
Posters are one of the simplest ways to convey information to employees, especially when placed in communal areas such as break-out rooms, toilets and main doors and corridors as these are areas where there is likely to be a captive audience. Poster templates (see below) have been designed for you to enter information that is tailored to your organisation and aims to raise awareness of what is available to employees and sign-post to places where further support and information can be accessed. However, it is important not to over-rely on posters as, whilst basic information can be initially presented in this format, it is a good idea to offer more dynamic ways of conveying further information.
This Toolkit contains some templates which you may adapt to the needs of your organisation. Some suggestions of what to include in a poster are:
If you have identified a workplace Champion, include a picture of them, ideally with their child. If you haven’t yet identified one, you could use an example from another organisation such as the one here.
Quotes/anecdotes from a role-model/Champion within your business. This will highlight the benefits of using the policy and make the policy more accessible.
Key facts about policies including: – Eligibility criteria – How much time is available to each parent – Wage/ salary replacement offered (if applicable) by the organisation / statutory – Practical features of of the policy, for example, the benefits of SPL (i.e. time can be taken off with your partner or alone and at any time in the first year, the possibility to take time off then return to work and then take some more time later in the first year (blocks)). – The employee’s legal rights and protections.
Where to seek further information within your organisation, e.g., Manager.
Social media campaign to connect people with experience of using family friendly poIicies like #ThisDadCan. This is particularly beneficial for creating a community of fathers online (more information can be found below).
Particularly in SME’s, having a wider network for employees to draw upon outside of the bsuiness can help. Providing employees with the information to join relevant social media groups and share experiences and stories will enable your staff to feel involved in a community of dads that is much wider than the organisation. Encouraging your employees to use a hashtag via Facebook or Twitter could be useful in ensuring people have an outlet on which to share and discuss their experiences outside of the workplace. To help with this and encourage further promotion it is possible to include the hashtag #ThisDadCan on social media. This can also assist in helping to develop a positive space around fathers taking on more childcare by utilising organisational policies and help dismantle gender stereotypes within the workplace. Of course, management can also get involved and tweet about the organisation’s family-friendly policies and be involved in promoting its workplace champions to empower employees to make informed decisions.
Examples of use
Through the use of #flexibleworking #ThisDadCan, I don’t miss out on being able to pick up my kids
Closed a sale today and also able to develop wonderful memories while looking after my child. I <<heart>> #flexibleworking! #ThisDadCan
The bond you develop with your child while on #SharedParentalLeave is indescribable. This is a time I will never forget #ThisDadCan
Creating an Organisational culture supportive of Paternity Leave and SPL
In addition to having visible Champions, it is important to have managers and senior managers actively and visibly supporting Paternity Leave, SPL and other policies. Policies themselves will be ineffectual if the culture of the organisation runs counter to what they are trying to achieve. Ensuring managers have the correct training, information and attitude towards SPL and family-friendly policies is key to effectively communicating the organisation’s supportive culture and policy offerings.
Ensure that managers are well-trained and knowledgeable about policies supporting fathers in the workplace– do not assume that this is knowledge already held by managers and employees.
Research from the University of Birmingham has shown that some fathers can be concerned that asking for SPL could negatively impact their career, and so can be put off making enquiries about it. However, creating a climate where employees feel comfortable asking and where the feel supported taking leave can lead to an increase in staff well-being and retention.
Communicating Parenting groups
Whilst a social media campaign is a good place for fathers to encounter a wide range of experiences and stories, a specific parenting group online or face to face could be an effective way for businesses to communicate policies whilst also offering a supportive space where discussions can take place. This Toolkit contains a module here on setting up and maintaining a parenting group which can be online of face to face.
A parenting group could involve regular face to face meetings, but they can also exist online, perhaps using an intranet or other platform already in place in your organisation. By considering what platforms are possible, this also demonstrates being mindful of the needs of parents in the workplace since an online parenting group may be more accessible for some parents and enable them the opportunity to access policies and discuss them. To effectively communicate with employees, policy information needs to be readily available, whether or not people can attend the parenting group or network created.
Training for managers
Managers have a key role to play in effectively communicating policies and encouraging their take up. It is crucial that their managers understand these policies and are able to respond to queries or know where to access up to date information for more complicated queries. Managers should also be aware that when communicating with fathers they should not assume that they will be a secondary carer.
It is also important that managers don’t wait to be approached but open up conversations about these policies early for employees to access information and make informed decisions.
If a buddy system is in place, managers can direct employees to those that have taken the policy and those who are familiar with the benefits experienced through using the policy and the support offered.
Family fun days
Whilst hosting a family fun day seems like a costly affair that may bear little relevance to effectively communicating with employees, this could be an effective way of engaging with fathers and their families in an informal and fun manner and can be done at low cost. Showing support for families in this way demonstrates a workplace culture that is supportive of family and the roles which parents, both fathers and mothers have to play. Furthermore, this will be a good opportunity to engage with the employee’s wider family, whilst integrating and introducing them into your company and the key values you share in a way that has perhaps not been previously done.
If budget permits, hiring an entertainer or an attraction may attract more people to your event. However, hosting a fun day need not be an expensive venture and you may be surprised who working within your business can face-paint or bake cakes for a sale! However, the importance of showing your support not only in a bureaucratic fashion during working hours but in a human manner by engaging with the wider families of your employees should not be underestimated in effectively communicating, not only policy but the core values and culture of your business to employees and their families.
Another way of engaging with the wider family is by creating resource(s) that employees can take home to discuss with their partner and other family members. This could be a simple yet effective way to communicate not only with the employee but their wider support networks too. This ‘take home’ resource could include a fact sheet with information about SPL, benefits of flexible working, and company specific support including who to contact, parenting groups, online support and so on. It could also include a list of local and national links which could be helpful.
You can find all of the materials mentioned in this and all other modules here.