Make Your Return From Paternal Leave Work for You

For many new dads, return from paternal leave back to the job can be a difficult and stressful experience. Here’s how to handle the transition.


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man returning to work after paternal leave

Paternity leave has long been considered a way for new fathers to bond with their newborns and support their families during a crucial time. Yet for many, their return from paternal leave back to the job can be a difficult and stressful experience.

A variety of factors can influence the success of a new father’s return to work. These include the degree of support of their employer, the workplace culture, and their ability to balance work and family responsibilities. In this article, we’ll look at ways that new dads can make “return to work” plans that’ll ease the transition back to the office.

Who is taking paternal leave?

Although most men take some time off, the period usually lasts only a few days. For some it’s merely hours.

Despite the availability of unpaid paternity leave in the U.S., fewer than 5% of men take 2 or more weeks of it. [1] The rate does increase when men have paid paternity leave, but few states have implemented laws requiring it. Many employee compensation packages include extra time off among their paternity leave benefits and non-monetary incentives. Still, most men can’t afford to take a long paternal leave.

How hard is it to return to work?

There are many factors that make returning to work challenging for fathers. Financial necessity is a driving force, and there are other issues that create stress at work.

Understanding the obstacles workers face when returning after paternal leave can help the transition. If you’re returning from an extended, or even short, paternity leave, the following considerations may help shape a successful transition.

Secure childcare

One of the biggest challenges working parents face is arranging for childcare. If your family will need it, see that it’s in place starting on your first day back to work.

If your partner will be staying at home, you might not have to worry about this for a while. But for moms who intend to work after maternity leave, a common setup is to use daycare. Some flexible spending accounts can be used to fund it, so it’s worth checking your FSA if you have one. Alternatively, you may have family or friends nearby who can babysit in shifts.

As you seek solutions, talk with colleagues who have taken parental leave. They might know of good daycares near your house or place of work. They also may have tips on how to set up successful childcare schedules. No one is as familiar with balancing your particular job responsibilities and childcare as others who’ve been in your shoes.

Adjust your work schedule

Another obstacle for parents may be scheduling. Jumping from a few weeks off to working full-time is a sudden shift that you’ll feel on your first day back. Even a few days on vacation can leave you backlogged with work. Upon return from paternity leave, you might be worn out and sleep-deprived to boot.

To ease this transition, look at returning part-time and building up to your full-time work schedule. You can ask your supervisor or Human Resources department about hybrid/remote work options.

Should you use a daycare, talk with your employer about the center’s drop-off and pickup schedule. Ask for flexible working arrangements that fit your childcare setup.

Finally, ask if your employer’s paternity leave policy allows for non-consecutive time off. You might have an easier time taking 1-2 days off each week for a few months.

Understand parental guilt

Never underestimate parental guilt, especially when you’re without much sleep. Returning to work after the birth or placement of a child can be overwhelming. Acknowledge this, and share it with family, friends and colleagues as you deem appropriate. Most people will listen and help if they can. Also, take a few moments each day for some positive self-care.

Of special import, pay attention to your own mental health and that of your partner. Should guilt increase beyond feeling bad so that it impacts your ability to function, talk with someone who can provide informed assistance. Postpartum depression is a real thing for new moms, and even new dads can experience it.

Reestablish connections with coworkers and the workplace

Consider a workplace reorientation upon return from paternal leave. During your time off, new or updated equipment, software, or procedures may have been put in place. You may even see new faces in the company or your department. Plan on spending some time learning about any changes.

Perhaps fellow employees have taken your share of work in your absence. If so, schedule a get-together so you can discuss where projects are and get updated. Offering to treat them for lunch is a good gesture of thanks for their help.

Set aside face-time with your child

Ask your supervisor if there’s a brief time you could connect virtually with your child. A few minutes to check in, see your sweet child’s face, and know the family is well may help you carry on.

Keep a dialog with your supervisor

As you and your employer plan for paternal leave, let your supervisor know whether you’re anxious or have special requests. You can then discuss solutions that’ll make your transition easier and you more effective at work. You’ll also want to clearly understand their expectations upon your return from paternal leave.

Understand paternity leave better

For more on paternity leave and the HR and business management experience, count on tips, tools, and resources at Workest.

  1. Dr. Petts Publishes on Paternity Leave-Taking, Ball State University

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