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Informal workplace cultures prevent fathers from taking parental leave


Generous laws governing parental leave are not enough to bring about an equal and shared parenthood. One of the obstacles is that men take shorter leave so as not to cause problems for the colleagues covering for them, according to studies from the University of Gothenburg.

Fathers have a legal right to paid parental leave in 28 European countries. Sweden is the country with the most generous laws and also the country where fathers take the most leave. But Swedish fathers still take less than a third of the parental leave that women take.

There are fewer fathers taking leave in the private sector than in the public sector, despite the fact that 80 per cent of Swedish working men are employed in the private sector. A series of survey and interview studies of private companies (encompassing HR personnel, management and employees) reveals that whilst there are no formal obstacles, many men choose not to take much leave.

“One of the obstacles that emerged was that companies don’t have a plan for replacing individuals on leave, instead relying on a culture of loyalty whereby their colleagues cover for the dads who are at home. This causes men to take shorter leave in order not to create problems for their colleagues,” says Philip Hwang, researcher in psychology who carried out the studies together with Linda Haas, professor of sociology at Indiana University, USA.

The studies also show that this culture is based on the assumption that the “ideal employee” prioritises their work over family and children. This also affected how those participating in the study felt about their options for taking leave; for example in terms of whether it would affect their advancement within the company.

“The norms in certain workplaces limit the fathers’ chances of splitting the parental leave with the mothers, which is unfortunate for all parties. It would make it easier for the fathers if the employers understood that they also benefit from encouraging the men to take leave. They would have loyal employees and become attractive companies to work for,” Philip Hwang explains.

A review of studies from various countries shows that legislated parental leave is fundamental as it sends important signals to everyone involved. However, this is not enough if the aim is to get parents to share the parental leave.

“Workplaces need to create structures which enable the parents to be away, which support fathers in management positions so that they can be positive role models, and which address the challenges associated with organisation culture,” says Philip Hwang.

Legislated paternity leave, as it exists in Sweden, can also help fathers to take leave and contribute to companies developing structures which facilitate this.

Further information:
The study Policy is not enough – the influence of the gendered workplace on fathers’ use of parental leave in Sweden was published in Community, Work and Family, Volume 22, Issue 1, 2019.

The article Workplace support and European fathers’ use of state policies promoting shared childcare was published in Community, Work & Family, Volume 22, Issue 1, 2019.

Philip Hwang, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, telephone: +46 (0)708-960636, e-mail: