Leaders Take Time Off for Children. What About the Rest of Us?

When high profile dads take time off for family, or at least say that's the reason, a host of headlines typically follow. It's big news when a head honcho makes such a decision.

Case in point, Starbucks chief operating officer Troy Alstead. He plans to devote "the next year" to his wife and children, "to give them my dedicated time and attention," according to a recent article in The Seattle Times about the executive deciding to take a year off without pay.

But there are many dads and moms out there who don't have the luxury to take a year -- or even a week -- off to spend "dedicated time and attention" with their kids, even if their children are sick, let alone in the weeks after birth. Taking time off without a paycheck just doesn't make economic sense for many working parents in the United States.

It's likely the topic of providing mandatory paid leave to employees will come up during the State of the Union Address tonight, since last week President Obama called on Congress to require employers to provide paid sick leave, and he's also planning to take executive action to give six weeks of leave with pay to employees in the federal government after the birth of a child or adoption.

But does it make business sense?

Clearly, business leaders believe family time is important given all the top leaders who are taking the time themselves. And Families and Work Institute's research points to a strong business case for supporting employees as they transition to parenthood.

This report from Family Matters, a briefing by Families and Work Institute sponsored by Care.com on the business case for investing in the transition to parenthood:

The research on the impact of paternity leave on employed fathers is scarce, but what research does exist shows that when fathers are actively involved in the transition to parenthood, starting during the pregnancy and extending after the baby is born--including taking paternity leave--the whole family can benefit.

As for moms, the paper continues:

... increasing the amount of maternity leave from six weeks to eight to 12 weeks was found to reduce depressive symptoms in new mothers by 11 percent to 15 percent. A study based on 98 dual-earner parents in the U.S. found that longer paternity leaves were associated with stronger support of the father for the mother. Another study of 10,000 births in the U.S. found that a paternity leave of two weeks or more resulted in a higher likelihood that the father was involved in direct child care nine months after birth.

What does it mean for employers?

Families are not the only ones who stand to gain from longer, paid leaves. Employers can gain, too, because a stronger, more stable home front enables new parents to return to work ready to perform at their best. As Maryella Gockel, EY Americas Flexibility Leader, says, "The better our families are, the better our people are."