Brian Ballantyne, pictured, works from home two days a week
Photo: Patricia Pitsch/Maison Moderne
Since the government put into place parental leave reforms on 1 December 2016, there has been an exponential increase in the number of parents taking parental leave, with an increase of 70% in 2017 compared to the previous year, according to Luxembourg’s family ministry.
The steep rise was partly driven by a threefold increase in the number of fathers opting to take parental leave. (The reform also benefitted women: a study published by Marie Valentova of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research in October 2018 noted a steep rise in the number of working mothers in Luxembourg under the new system.) So, what is it like for fathers who decide to take parental leave and how are employers adjusting to this change?
Brian Ballantyne, who works for a technology company in Luxembourg, is one father who has taken advantage of his employer’s flexible working hours, as well as a three-month sabbatical from work to spend time with his children. “Twelve years ago, I was lucky to get a fortnight off to spend time with my kids,” he said. “Although I still work in the same industry, times have changed and employers are more aware of levelling the playing field, especially when it comes to gender equality.”
Brian now works from home two days a week, when he has responsibility for supervising the children’s homework as well as providing the usual parental taxi service. “The school holidays in Luxembourg are extremely long and I think a lot of expats without family here really struggle,” Brian commented. “Unlike other countries, there are not many options for children when both parents work. There is the maison relais [afterschool childcare centre] and that’s about it.”
Neil, another father, who has chosen to take 12 months of half-time parental leave, agrees. “One of the reasons I took 12 months rather than 6 was due to how long the school holidays are in Luxembourg,” explained Neil, who is originally from Australia and did not want his family name published. “As Antipodeans, we usually make the decision to ship the children off to their grandparents for the holidays, but it’s a long time to be apart and I don’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing my children grow up.”
Whilst taking parental leave has generally been smooth sailing for Brian and Neil, they are both aware that not all employers are forward-thinking and it often has a lot to do with your seniority within an organisation. Brian said: “I know a lot of senior males within my company who have chosen to take parental leave and have met many stay-at-home dads from my interactions within the kids’ school.”
One stay-at-home dad, who would prefer to be referred to as “Bob” for this article, has not found parental leave such smooth sailing. “I work within the fund industry and am not at managerial level,” he stated. “So getting time off as a worker bee was much more difficult.” Indeed, Bob had to wait for almost a year before his request was accepted. “As for my future in the organisation, I am a little bit sceptical about my immediate career prospects,” he said. “12 months is a long time to be off and things change, I am not entirely sure if I will return to the same job or if my chances of being promoted will diminish.”
According to Sandra Carvalho, head of communications and strategy at Aleba, Luxembourg’s largest financial sector trade union, parental leave was “a subject of high importance to Aleba and makes up part of our programme for the next social elections in March 2019”. The group aims to gain reassurance for working fathers who take their family leave.
All the fathers Delano spoke with have no doubt that the time they have taken off has benefited both them and their children. “It’s been a year now since I took my 3-month sabbatical,” said Brian. “But the benefits have definitely stayed with me. I find that I am a lot calmer than before and able to be ‘more in the moment’.” Brian has also seen an impact on his family’s daily life: “We learnt to really communicate with one another,” he explained. “We have also learnt just to hang out together, especially having spent so much time in airports.”
Neil has also seen a difference in the relationship between him and his children. “Before I took time off, mum was always the go-to person for everything, particularly homework,” he stated. “Now, I am much more involved in their daily lives and am just as likely to be asked for homework help as my wife.”
All employers must follow the legislation regarding parental leave that was updated two years ago. However, as Delano discovered, it depends not only on the culture, but also on the size of the company in question. Larger organisations may have greater budgets to hire temporary workers to cover paternity leave absences. But the smaller the organisation, the less flexibility they may have to hire and train employees.
At press time, no official figures were available to detail the costs that parental leave has on companies directly. However, according to the family ministry’s 2017 annual report, the cost to the state for parental leave increased 98% between 2016 and 2017, to €166m. It may be a large monetary figure, but the impact it will have on gender equality in the workplace, in addition to the physical and psychological effect it has on children, may be priceless.