Employee benefits have come to play a more significant role in the overall employee value proposition. Parental leave was historically only available for mothers to care for their newborn in the months following childbirth, however more organisations have expanded leave policies to include fathers as the perspective on the role fathers play in the family continues to evolve.

Paternity leave policies differ across Asia, and it is often difficult to institute a global parental leave policy without having to address governmental and state legislation. Yet, policies need to accommodate a changing workforce, be generous and cost-effective. Here’s how different countries in APAC are addressing the issue.

Unique cultural aspects influence Asian countries in parental leave policy adoption

According to Mercer’s new Global Parental Leave report, more than one-third of organisations worldwide have one centralised global policy that covers the various types of leaves available, including maternity, paternity, adoption, and parental. 38% provide paid paternity leave above the statutory minimum and several countries mandate a parental leave program that may be used by either parent.

In Japan, government agencies are promoting greater awareness of the childcare leave entitlement available to staff. About 8.2% of eligible male workers took childcare leave in 2016, up by 2.7% from 2015. Under the law, employees are entitled to take parental leave until their children reach one year in age.

The government has also set a goal to lift the proportion of men taking childcare leave to 13% by 2020 in both the public and private sectors. Japan is a patriarchal society, where men are not as involved in child-rearing. The government is stressing the need for society to change their way of thinking. A traditional work environment has made men hesitant to apply for parental leave and concerned that taking paternity leave may hurt their chances of a pay rise or promotion.

Employers operating in Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore are typically required by to provide only maternity leave. However, in Singapore, a father is allowed to share one week of the 16-week maternity leave, provided the mother agrees. The father may in some cases also be eligible for an additional week of government-paid paternity leave, for a total of two weeks.

While over 44% of employers in Hong Kong provide maternity leave above the statutory minimum, only 13% of those in Indonesia do so– a reflection of disparities in talent management practices across Asia. As part of the Indonesian government’s efforts to promote gender equality, male civil servants in the country are now permitted to apply for  up to one month paternity leave to support their wives during childbirth and beyond.

Positive changes can be seen in India - 84% of employers in India now offer paternity leave beyond the statutory minimum, as the social fabric moves away from the traditional ‘joint’ families to ‘nuclear’ families with the onus of childcare borne entirely by working married couples.

In Malaysia, civil servants are now entitled to seven days of paternity leave. This is an increase from the three days enjoyed before 2003, and the Malaysian government is looking at extending it to a month.

The Thai government has always given more importance to the women giving birth. While the government is still considering revisions to paternity and maternity leave to improve the quality of life for working women, who are currently entitled to 90 days of leave, there are currently no rights for working fathers in caring for newborns in the private sector. In contrast, the companies in the public sector allow fathers 15 days to care for their newborn babies.

As can be seen, changes to paternity leave policies and benefits differ across Asian countries and most changes are coming from the top. The next most likely challenge will be for governments to find ways to improve paternity benefits and policies for male employees in the private sector.

Identifying needs and emotional drivers of the new workforce

Enhanced leave programs are becoming a valuable tool for attracting and retaining top talent. Parental leave policies can have a positive effect on both employees and employers as they help the workforce maintain a better work-life balance. These leave policies also promote the company as a more attractive place to work, improving retention during a time of continued demand for highly-skilled talent.

Companies should take a proactive approach to understand the emotional drivers of different workforce segments, enabling them to introduce policies which cater to the evolving needs of all the segments.