SINGAPORE – Unlike the vast majority of the fathers in Singapore, British Jim Butcher, 44, had six months of parental leave on full pay when his youngest child, Lucy, was born.
Like all Spotify employees around the world, the communications director for Asia Pacific has the right to take this parental leave – as a whole or split into smaller periods – until the third birthday of his child.
The generous maternity leave policy of the music streaming company, highlighted at a recent seminar on family-friendly workplaces, reflects a growing trend for attractive work-life balance initiatives, many of which believe it is the key to attract young talent.
However, other participants in the seminar, organized by the Swedish Embassy and Families For Life, noted that there are still a number of cultural barriers that hamper the widespread application of such practices by employees and employers.
For example, trade union activist K Thanaletchimi said that employees who want to adopt flexible work arrangements or want to touch other work-private balance initiatives of their companies sometimes have no support
from their leaders, middle management and colleagues.
Mr. Winston Tay, co-founder of the Daddy Matters Facebook group, who actively promotes fatherhood, said separately that it is important that everyone in a company, from its human resource department to its managers, embraces the same ideals for work life.
Otherwise, managers who disagree with the initiatives of their own company may be reluctant to hire people with young families or those who are about to start one, because these are the people who are most likely to such benefits benefit.
But companies like Spotify consider generous parental leave and family-friendly practices as one of the keys to their success.
Mr Michael Kim, the head of human resources for the Asia-Pacific region, said that parental leave policy is a "huge talent attraction tool". He refused to reveal how much it costs.
The policy, which was launched at the end of 2015, "comes from our Swedish-inspired culture and values," he said.
Under Sweden's comprehensive social security system, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave when a child is born or adopted. This leave can be taken per month, week or day.
Although women still take up most of this parental leave, 60 days of leave are specifically allocated to each parent.
Most countries have a much shorter parental leave policy.
In Singapore, fathers are entitled to two weeks paid paternity leave while mothers receive 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Worldwide companies are increasingly offering generous parental leave to retain talent.
Swedish furniture retailer Ikea offers four weeks paid paternity leave, while Facebook on social media offers four months of paid parental leave to both mothers and fathers of newborns.
Ms. Sarojini Padmanathan, a member of the Families for Life Council, an organization that promotes strong families, said: "Many employers think about defining their workplace policies to support family life and attract and retain top talent.
"This is especially true today, where millennials will soon be (the majority) of the global workforce, and they expect better work-life harmony than money and promotions."
She pointed to policy measures such as the Government's Work-Life Grant, which was recently expanded to encourage companies and support them in adopting flexible working arrangements such as flexi-time or teleworking. Since 2013, more than 1,500 companies have used the Work-Life Grant, she said.
Millennial couples who spoke with The Straits Times said that parental leave could affect their family planning decisions.
Lawyer Jessie Huen, 27 said: "It would be easier to decide whether or not to have a child, the biggest concern is judging by my friends who have had children in recent years, what happens if someone goes back to work, parental leave would be a more efficient way to deal with the issue of childcare. "
Her husband, Eugene Ng (28), who works in the army, however, was somewhat skeptical and said it remains to be seen whether Singaporeans would abandon their work for months, fearing that such leave would affect their appraisal interviews and bonuses.
As for Mr. Butcher, he took four months off when his daughter Lucy, now three years old, was about one and a half years old, and another two months off, and has no regrets.
His 41-year-old woman works part-time in health care and the couple has another daughter, eight and a son, who is five. "I learned how it was to raise a small child," he said, adding that the fact that he could spend time with his family meant that he did not now feel "the constant confession" of a working parent.