UAE companies buck trend by extending paternity leave to support new fathers

One firm offers up to 26 weeks off for dads

Taking paternity leave has been shown to boost father-child bonding, the baby's development and the parents' relationship. Getty Images
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Companies across the UAE are extending paternity leave and embedding more support for new fathers in HR policies, workplace experts have told The National.

Under UAE labour law, fathers are entitled to five working days off, but many companies are offering significantly more.

One of the latest announcements came from Chalhoub Group. Last month, the luxury goods retailer extended paternity leave from 14 to 30 calendar days in eight countries in which it operates, including the UAE. This can be taken in one block or spread out within the first six months of a child’s birth.

The new policy puts Chalhoub Group within the region’s top 10 per cent of organisations for parental leave benefits, and earned it the Parent-friendly Label by the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority.

It’s important to afford our new dads the time to be able to soak up the special moments, to help and to be present
Richard Stillgoe, HR director at WSP Middle East

The group also offers parents and other staff flexible working hours, remote work options and an employee assistance programme that includes mental health support.

“Our people are our most valuable asset and, as we evolve, so do the ways in which we support them,” said Wassim Eid, the group’s president of people and culture.

“By implementing these parent-friendly policies, we can support our colleagues in their professional and personal lives and further attract talents from the region and across the world.”

Although comprehensive research into this area is lacking, various studies have shown that fathers taking time off work to help care for a newborn is good for bonding, the baby’s development and the parents’ relationship.

National development and employee engagement

A study by UN Women last year found high support (86 per cent among respondents) for expanded paternity leave policies throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Seventy-six per cent of men surveyed believed they spent too little time with their children, which reflects a 2020 UN Women study that found men in Arab countries invested one hour in care for every 4.7 hours by women, the highest imbalance globally.

Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, regional director of UN Women for the Arab States, emphasised that increased parental leave seeks to “enable men to spend more time with their children, which in turn enables women’s participation in the paid labour force, hence increasing overall well-being of children as well as increasing the family income and, consequently, national economic and social development”.

Viachelsav Shakhov, a managing partner at GCC recruitment agency Cooper Fitch, said while paternity leave policies are still not one of the major factors for jobseekers, candidates are beginning to place more emphasis on non-financial benefits, “which include paternity leave in particular”.

Infographic: The Global Leaders and Laggards in Parental Leave | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

“Such policies tend to increase employee engagement, which could then further impact the business positively,” he told The National. “In today’s competitive talent market, such policies become an important part of the employee value proposition.”

Leave duration is not the only way to support new fathers, he added. “Flexible work arrangements also contribute positively as an employee can spend more time with the newborn and family.

"In other GCC countries, we’ve seen some organisations providing cash rewards for each newborn.”

'Mums need help'

Richard Stillgoe, HR director at professional services consulting firm WSP Middle East, took one week off when his twin girls were born a little over a year ago, in line with UAE labour law.

“It became quickly apparent to me that we needed to do more in this space for our future fathers,” he told The National. “They grow up so fast and mums need help. It’s important to afford our new dads the time to be able to soak up the special moments, to help and to be present.”

His company has since announced it is extending its paternity leave policy to 10 working days this year, which can be used at any time within the first year of their child’s birth.

It also offers four additional remote-working weeks that can be used as needed and a return-to-work programme will be set up imminently, allowing flexibility to employees who have taken extended leave.

“This includes counselling to help [fathers] navigate parenthood and adjust to the seismic shift this can have on their lives,” said Mr Stillgoe.

“We will also provide a lean-in group for returning fathers so that they have a network of like-minded people around them to help embrace the shared experience of becoming new dads.

"Can we do more still? Absolutely."

Up to 26 weeks paternity leave

S&P Global, a US financial information and analytics company, have offered 26 weeks of paid parental leave globally since January 2022, meaning it has one of the best such policies in the region.

“Once parents return to work, we also offer flexible ‘recharge’ time, under which there is no prescribed maximum amount of paid time off our people can take, provided they are fulfilling the duties of their role,” said Dimitra Manis, the company’s chief purpose officer.

Parents are able to work in a hybrid model, between the office and their home, and the company also has health and well-being programmes, as well as a people resource group tailored to parents.

“Career-minded parents and caregivers have space to discuss topics essential to successful families and careers, and advocate solutions that improve outcomes for communities, families and children,” said Ms Manis.

“Having a child is a significant moment for both parents and we are committed to providing the support they need to successfully navigate this meaningful journey into parenthood.

“We believe that this helps both parents integrate their new roles while advancing work-life balance and career satisfaction.”

Elsewhere, technology giant Microsoft offers six weeks paid leave for new fathers in the UAE, including adoptive parents, which can be used all at once or split into two segments where they take four weeks at once, followed by the remaining two at a later date.

“The policy remains unchanged for multiple births, ensuring that fathers are able to meet the needs of their families as they grow,” said Zeina Fakhry, Microsoft's HR director for the Middle East.

“This will provide them with valuable time to bond with their newborn child or welcome an adopted one into their families and adjust to the demands of parenthood.”

Updated: May 19, 2024, 5:00 AM