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  • Report
  • 18th Jun 2021

Supporting men to take longer parental leave and work flexibly

Research report

Key findings

  • Equal numbers of mothers & fathers want to work #flexibly to spend time with their kids but men are far less likely to do so. 🤔 We partnered with @santanderuk to find out if pluralistic ignorance (men mistakenly believing that their colleagues disapprove of parental leave) is driving this disparity.
  • Social norms can play a big role in #behaviourchange. By telling men at @santanderuk that the majority of their male colleagues support parental leave for fathers, we boosted the intention to take longer leave by 62%. 📅

Men are less likely than women to take time out of work to care for children, and less likely to make use of flexible working options. Whilst there are a range of barriers contributing to men’s lower uptake of parental leave and flexible working, one explanation could be that, while men privately want to take more paternity leave and work flexibly, and are supportive of others who do, they underestimate support for these behaviours among their co-workers – a case of pluralistic ignorance.

We sought to find out whether pluralistic ignorance occurs in relation to men’s parental leave and flexible work uptake at Santander UK, and if so, whether providing feedback on actual beliefs among peers would affect men’s intentions to engage in these behaviours in the future. We subsequently ran a similar trial with a second banking partner – one of the world’s largest banks – who has chosen to remain anonymous.

We investigated this idea by testing whether providing feedback on actual norms – what most people believe – about parental leave and flexible working among male employees at Santander UK made them more likely to plan to take longer parental leave and work flexibly in the future. We ran RCTs with several thousand employees at both our partner banks.

Providing feedback which made clear that the majority of male peers were supportive of parental leave significantly increased participants’ intentions to take between 5 and 8 weeks of parental leave in comparison to the control group in both trials – at Santander by 62% and at the second bank by 50%. However, the feedback also had an unintended effect and significantly decreased participants’ intentions to take more than 16 weeks of leave at Santander UK. The feedback therefore clearly had an impact on intentions, but as these effects went in opposite directions, overall the feedback did not increase the average number of intended weeks of parental leave in either trial.

The feedback was effective at increasing the intention of men at Santander UK to work flexibly in the future, in comparison to the control. The treatment group expressed that they were 4% more likely to work flexibly than the control group.

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