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First-time Fathers May Experience Distress on Return to Work

  • Published
  • 15 June 2023
  • Category
  • General

While marking Men’s Health Week and preparing for Father’s Day on June 18, we’re thinking about the occupational health and safety needs of new fathers in the workplace.

Fathers of newborns tend to get less attention than mothers and babies. However, that doesn’t mean men are less emotionally attached to their child or find it easier than their partner to return to work after taking parental leave.

A study published recently in a special Mental Health Matters edition of Healthcare caught our attention. In the study, 12 first-time fathers reported experiencing distress, guilt and psychological challenges when they initially returned to work after paternity leave, as well as changes in their “worker identity” and insecurities about their role in the workplace.

While this United Kingdom-based study had only a dozen participants, related research cited by its authors suggests that most new fathers can benefit from recognition and support upon their return to work. As the study’s authors note, “There is increasing research interest in the experiences of new fathers taking paternity leave, but less insight into men’s experiences of returning to work after the birth of their first baby.”

Useful Insights

There are many reasons – social, financial, emotional, physical – why more women than men decide to leave the workforce after childbirth. Returning to work after the birth or adoption of a child can be both challenging and rewarding.

The study published in Healthcare provides some useful insights for employers who want to help new fathers successfully navigate their return to work. Among the findings:

  • Some new fathers have a sense of dread, feel sad and wish they had more time at home with their family; others discover a greater sense of purpose in their job when they become a parent.
  • There are differences in fathers’ perspectives on using and accessing leave and flexible scheduling depending on their socioeconomic or employment status.
  • Fathers who lack flexibility and autonomy in their working conditions have a higher risk for increased levels of stress, unhappiness and anxiety.
  • Men can experience mental health problems related to their transition to fatherhood, including post-natal depression, which is usually associated with women.
  • Men who witness a traumatic birth may be more prone to anxiety, stress, substance misuse and relationship problems.

What Can Employers Do?

New parenthood limits time for partner intimacy, friendships, leisure activities, and life essentials such as sleep, exercise and good nutrition. At work, exhausted parents of newborns may be prone to illness, work-related injuries, absence and presenteeism (being present but not fully engaged). Employers can make a difference in the quality of new parents’ lives. Recommendations include:

  1. Evaluate maternity and paternity leave policies. (Men who are able to take longer parental leave are found to be more involved in their children’s care and developmental play and have closer emotional relationships than those who take shorter leave.)
  2. Allow flexible work schedules, job-sharing and/or remote work, as feasible, to help ease the transition back to work after having a child.
  3. Provide behavioral health resources to support parental well-being in the workplace. This may include counseling, mental health champions or peer groups.
  4. Offer training to management personnel on how to positively support new fathers and mothers.
  5. Be aware of physical or emotional changes that can affect a new parent’s performance at work; know when to offer professional resources.

Contact us to learn about the ways WorkCare’s expert team helps employees adapt to their new identity as parents, reduce separation anxiety and feel comfortable about their return to work after parental leave.