Longer paternity leave can be a boon to small firms too

They can benefit from better employee satisfaction, retention and productivity, say observers

While smaller companies may have to bear some extra costs when fathers take more paternity leave, with proper planning the move can benefit them too.

The Government's move to mandate an extra week of paid paternity leave for children born from next year, and allow a higher shared portion of paid maternity leave of up to four weeks, could raise employee satisfaction and retention of both male and female staff, experts told The Straits Times.

"Bosses who are supportive of parental leave can build a great sense of belonging and commitment for staff by showing they truly care," said Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI). He added that new fathers might have a stronger drive at work because they want to provide for their growing family.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices said employers who put in place effective strategies to help staff thrive in their work and family life could benefit from improved employee satisfaction, retention and productivity.

Making more paternity leave compulsory could also improve employers' perception of women who take maternity leave.

"It will help employers regard workers who are also caregivers as a norm, and to treat accommodation for them as a default, rather than seeing them as some exceptional burden making illegitimate demands," said Ms Jolene Tan, programmes and communications senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Small and medium-sized enterprises told The Straits Times they delegate duties to other workers when staff go on extended leave.

"At least one week before the employee goes on leave, he or she has the responsibility to see to the handover arrangement together with the direct supervisor, who will determine the distribution of duties," said Mr Henry Chan, chief executive of retail start-up ShopBack.

3E Accounting director Stephanie Chua does not expect productivity to be affected by men taking extended paternity leave from next year. The accountancy firm already voluntarily provides an extra week of paternity leave.

"We have also made arrangements for some of our employees to work from home," said Ms Chua.

HR departments could ask fathers to stagger leave instead of taking two weeks in one go, said SHRI's Mr Tan.

But small businesses which do not have the resources to redistribute duties may find it difficult to cope. It is often costly and less productive to hire temporary staff to replace those on leave, according to the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.

Ms Yvonne Gaw, HR manager at events company Eventique, said long periods of leave "are not good for productivity, especially when it's workers in key management positions on leave".

New fathers may not use the full four weeks of shared parental leave they are now entitled to, said labour MP Patrick Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower. "I'm not sure if all companies, especially those with manpower shortages in this tight labour market, will be able to accommodate the dad wanting to utilise the full entitlement, including the shared portion," he said.

"Employees will also be extra mindful in this uncertain economic landscape of being absent from work for an extended period."

Already, only four in 10 eligible fathers used the full week of paid paternity leave last year, said fellow labour MP Desmond Choo.

"Tripartite partners have to work together to improve the consumption rate," said the director of the NTUC's youth development unit. "In instances where (parents) might be discriminated against, we must pursue justice vigorously."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Longer paternity leave can be a boon to small firms too'. Print Edition | Subscribe