MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 11-Feb-15 16:46:24

Guest post: Paternity leave: 'I expect my male employees to take six months off - and it's good for business'

Following Labour's pledge to double paternity leave and increase statutory paternity pay, Henrik Torstensson, CEO of Swedish health app Lifesum, says that his male employees routinely take months off when they become fathers - and explains why it works

Henrik Torstensson

CEO of Lifesum

Posted on: Wed 11-Feb-15 16:46:24

(45 comments )

Lead photo

In Sweden, 25% of all parental leave is taken by men

After announcements about extend paternity or parental leave, commentators often refer to the much lauded 'Nordic system', of which, as Swedish managing director, I am a part.

Dads in Sweden are entitled to 10 paid days (80% of salary up to a certain limit) away from work in connection to their child's birth. Then, Swedish parents are entitled to a total of 480 days of leave, paid at up to 80% of their salary (with a cap of £2,300 per month, before tax) following the birth or adoption of a child. Each parent is entitled to take at least 60 days of this allowance, and the rest can be split as parents wish. This ensures all new fathers have the opportunity to spend at the least two months of their child's early life at home with them.

The Swedish government's policy, along with the shifting of attitudes regarding gender roles in parenting, has led to a significant change in the amount of leave taken by fathers: in 1980, only 5% of parental leave was taken by men. It increased to 17% in 2003 – an improvement, but still not at the level it is today. The real change came in 2008, when our ‘equality bonus’ was introduced to reward the more equal use of parental days, and today, 25% of all parental leave is taken by men. On average, the father of a newborn in Sweden will take four months off work. In young, creative companies it is not uncommon for fathers to take six months or more of paternity leave.

It is a short-term challenge for us to be without a valued member of the team - but it's also an opportunity.


It all sounds brilliant, doesn't it? But what about the cost to businesses? I run one such company, and I fully expect my male employees to take six months off at some point during their child’s early life.

When our employees - both male and female - take time off to be with their children, it's good for us in the long-term. Firstly, it means that the impact of the major career road-block women can experience is much reduced. Paternity leave is an important factor in making sure women can advance their careers as quickly as men, and this is one way to close the gender pay gap. We need these talented women - like many other Swedish companies, we believe in gender equality, and that being a mixed, diverse team is crucial to our success.

Of course, it is a challenge for us to be without a valued member of staff at any stage, but it's a short-term challenge - and it also offers opportunities. Fathers and mothers being away from work means a chance for myself and the rest of the management team to give more responsibility to newer employees, and see how they react when taking on a bigger role. All businesses should build their capacity to deal with new situations, and we've found that adapting our organisational DNA is highly valuable in today's fast-moving world.

As a company, we've been continuously growing; we've gone from five to 33 employees in the last two years, and we will continue to grow over the next few years. Being able to give people more responsibility, ahead of a full promotion, has worked for us because we've have always had more work to do when the mother or father is back in the office, requiring responsibility to be shared more widely.

In the long-term, too, that individual is happier and a better colleague and employee, because he or she has been given the opportunity to do what's best for their family.

I love it when we have every team member in the office every day, but I also know that our long-term success is reliant on happy and creative employees, and proper paternity leave is a crucial part of that.

By Henrik Torstensson

Twitter: @henrikt

ChaiseLounger Wed 11-Feb-15 22:01:54

I wonder how smaller business will cope. Say you have an experienced xxx operator/machinist someone who is very skilled at a certain niche thing - we can't even get a printer in to cover one of our guys going sick. And is someone going to want to come for only 6 months?
In your growing business this may not be so hard but in many other smaller businesses that aren't expanding, this could be very tough.

AKnickerfulOfMenace Wed 11-Feb-15 23:15:04

I am glad about the equalisation of APL in the UK.

eurochick Thu 12-Feb-15 07:26:46

Chaise they already have to deal with this when women take leave.

KarmaNoMore Thu 12-Feb-15 07:29:46

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SurlyCue Thu 12-Feb-15 08:56:43

We see problems in this country. Instead of opportunity, we see problems
"I wonder how smaller business will cope. Say you have an experienced xxx operator/machinist someone who is very skilled at a certain niche thing - we can't even get a printer in to cover one of our guys going sick. And is someone going to want to come for only 6 months?"

We need to change our mindsets if progress towards equality is to be achieved.

Have more employees trained to do more than just one role. It might initially cost but think long term. Fewer recruitment costs, employees have a better skill set, they have options to move within the company rather than out of it, they feel valued that they have been trained to be retained.

SurlyCue Thu 12-Feb-15 09:00:53

And is someone going to want to come for only 6 months

This already happens and has been happening for years when mothers take maternity leave. The country hasnt come to a standstill in that time.

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AKnickerfulOfMenace Thu 12-Feb-15 09:14:53

Exactly, Surly. The same was no doubt said about employees having the right to annual leave, once upon a time.

My cousin makes a career of covering maternity and long term sick absences in school - he likes it as he gets a variety of workplaces etc. There's a demand for that cover and there are people interested in doing it. As demand for other kinds of cover rises, some will be interested in doing it.

SurlyCue Thu 12-Feb-15 09:34:55

Yep- lots of people very happy to do temporary contracts for whatever reason. Expecting to travel in 8 months, saving for a holiday, having a baby themselves, etc. not everyone is looking for a 25 year career in the same role.

ChunkyPickle Thu 12-Feb-15 10:24:56

What would you do if that niche operator was hit by a bus, or had a long-term health problem that prevented them working, or quit to go to a competitor.

In my line of work we call that a single point of failure, and do everything we can to avoid it. It's very poor business sense, and a huge risk to have something that only one person can do. You need to train more people to perform that niche task, or you're open to catastrophic failure.

I love the attitude from Henrik - it's how I feel about my employees, the best employees are happy employees, and the best teams work together, and can handle the temporary absence of a member.

ChaiseLounger Thu 12-Feb-15 17:57:14

whilst I appreciate your point, and yes it is a failure point, it is tricky to get around.

Some of you are talking about a 2 a penny businesses. Or covering a maternity leave in schools. oh purlease. of course you can get lots of people to do that.
If you need someone to do accounts or admin or advertising, fine. or a manager who does a specific task, once a quarter, make sure that someone else could cover than.

But what about niche business? when people have trained for many years to do just one task? how many people do you know who fit cockpits for aeroplanes, or who specifically know how fit an exhaust on a custom built sports car, or who have been in the printing trade for 20 years and have the experience of a certain type of printing matter on a certain type of machine.

Those type of businesses, it is harder to solve that 'single point of failure'.

PetulaGordino Thu 12-Feb-15 18:10:21

Why should those people be denied parental leave?

Norisca Thu 12-Feb-15 18:11:19

If the total amount of parental leave is equal to the current amount of maternity leave then saying it would have an impact on business is pretty sexist. It implies that women don't have niche skills and their absence doesn't impact on businesses.
My concern is with breastfeeding. We know from research that it is optimal for a child to be breastfed for the first two years of life and while it is possible to continue to feed if you return to work after six months it is difficult. I would not have left my child with anyone, even his father, at 6 months, I didn't feel ready to leave him generally but I also wouldn't have wanted to compromise our breastfeeding relationship. this might be one of the reasons most Swedish women stop feeding by or before six months. It's also almost unheard of for them to stay at home with their children. I'm all for choice but there will be pressure on Mums to go back to work earlier with equal parental leave allowances.

SurlyCue Thu 12-Feb-15 18:30:28

how many people do you know who fit cockpits for aeroplanes, or who specifically know how fit an exhaust on a custom built sports car, or who have been in the printing trade for 20 years and have the experience of a certain type of printing matter on a certain type of machine.

None because i dont work in any of those industries. I would however expect someone running that kind of business to have contacts and experience in sourcing staff that fit those criteria. What do they do when someone take sick?

AKnickerfulOfMenace Thu 12-Feb-15 18:32:34

Norsica

Breastfeeding rates at 6m are pretty low in this country too !

slightlyglitterstained Fri 13-Feb-15 21:09:59

Oh FFS. 1%. ONE FUCKING PERCENT. That's how many women are ebf at 6 months. And has been for years. m.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20406743

Now, can we STOP this misogynist fucking shite being trotted out every fucking time anyone even dares to mention the idea of women wanting to return to work before their kids leave home? Pretty please with sugar on top?

(Fuck me sideways, it's like working involves ripping your boobs off or something. Not quite sure how my DS is managing to bf despite having an evil working raven mother, but somehow he is, at 2 1/2. )

PragmaticWench Sat 14-Feb-15 02:37:42

What this approach may well do is to stop particular sectors of industry from taking the majority of the impact of maternity leave. The NHS, childcare, teaching and service industries etc. are dominated by female employees, so more employees in these sectors are taking maternity leave than in engineering, automotive or other industries which are male dominated. Perhaps it's time to even things up a little. I also welcome the positive stance towards parental leave as offering opportunities to other employees within an organisation, very refreshing.

houghtonk76 Sat 14-Feb-15 08:48:40

Firstly, I'd be quite worried if any mother was breastfeeding for 2 years - call me odd, but don't kids have teeth at like 1 year old? Thought whole idea was that you wean them off-breast & onto solid food with a view to ensuring they become independent, successful adults, rather than become Norman Bates! Secondly, I do understand what Chaise is saying, because as a qualified careers adviser, I know there are a lots of skills that are being "lost" as training & manufacturing in the UK dies out, however, I do think its short-sighted not to continue to train new or other staff, as any eventuality, illness, death, paternity leave (or maternity leave - these days women can be engineers, machinists, etc too) may happen and then where would you be; because Henrik also has a point that for the world to progress (including the working world) there still needs to be change, equality and an acceptance of work-life balance flexible working practices to maintain a happy and productive staff and ensure business can continue to flourish.

stargirl1701 Sat 14-Feb-15 09:23:00

The World Health Organisation recommend that all babies are breastfed until 2 years old.

www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

PetulaGordino Sat 14-Feb-15 09:24:55

Wow I haven't seen a post so ignorant about breastfeeding in a while

AKnickerfulOfMenace Sat 14-Feb-15 09:44:58

There's no need for the disparaging points about BF, houghton. BF a child until 2 or beyond doesn't make them into a killer.

SurlyCue Sat 14-Feb-15 11:31:47

I'd be quite worried if any mother was breastfeeding for 2 years - call me odd, but don't kids have teeth at like 1 year old? Thought whole idea was that you wean them off-breast & onto solid food with a view to ensuring they become independent, successful adults, rather than become Norman Bates!

Excellent demonstration of complete ignorance. Well done.

slightlyglitterstained Sat 14-Feb-15 11:53:18

Breastfeeding a 2 1/2 year old is really not the same as a newborn. Most toddlers will have dropped to just a feed in the evening/morning, your supply can cope fine with a break of several days, etc.

(For that matter, feeding a 7 month old was not like feeding a newborn. The constant stage isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, and it's entirely possible to return to work and breastfeed. I did, a number of mothers I knew did - of those who hadn't heaved a huge sigh of relief and given up on the dot of 6 months that is).

Insisting that legislation treat women as moronic milch cows who cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own lives, bodies, careers and children is pure and simple misogyny. Using breastfeeding as a "cover" for this is patently ridiculous given the evidence.

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Sat 14-Feb-15 12:17:26

I agree the breastfeeding issue is moot. I breastfed my DD until 14/15 mths yet returned to work at 8 mths. Still fed DD 3 times a day, sometimes more, whether I was at work or not. That feeding routine started when DD was about 5/6 mths, and was in no way detrimental to DD health/growth/development. Breastfeeding is no barrier to the idea that paternity/maternity leave should be shared more equally between parents, and those who believe that to be so are deluded IMVHO.

I'd love to see the Scandinavian model replicated here, for the simple reason that my DD would benefit hugely in both her own family decisions should she ever have DC, and also in whatever career she chooses to have.

NK5BM3 Sat 14-Feb-15 18:59:40

I think when there's a will there's a way. And a lot of will has to come from the top managers, MDs, CEOs who run these organisations. Whether they are multinationals or a 10 person strong company.

In the OP it was clear that they are a small company and yet they've managed to grow.

Those who have said that bf means women have to stay at home, I say that's bs. I bf both my kids till they were 2 and 3 years old and I went back ft at 6 months both times. Supply didn't drop, i pumped where necessary, even did some extra work whilst on maternity leave and brought my pump to London and did it in a board room privately.

We already have maternity cover when women go on leave... From secretaries to university professors to engineers to pilots. So... Surely where there are jobs for women, there are similar jobs for men. If a female doctor can go on maternity leave and then return to work at 6-12 months then so can her male counterpart. He can take the rest of the 6 months once his wife returns to work.

I'm done with childbearing so any change in legislation won't affect me but I would love for this to happen.

Where I work I hear that a v senior male member of staff is thinking of going part time to give his doctor wife a chance back in her career. I applaud that. I hope that happens.

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