For Sayan Guha, 31, becoming a father was one of the most memorable moments of life. But what he remembers most vividly from those early days of fatherhood are the calls from work. “I took seven days off from work when my son was born, of which three days were spent at the hospital. I started getting calls from the office from the fourth day, had to attend a meeting for 2 hours on the sixth day. I then got back to work full-time on the eighth day," says Guha, research director for In-Store Consulting Services, a Delhi-based market research organization.

Quality time: Sayan Guha tries to spend as much time as he can with his two-year-old son Soham. Priyanka Parashar/Mint

“For me, this shuttling became taxing as I had joined work. But for my wife and the baby, it was especially awful because in the first month you deal with sleep deprivation, post-partum depression (and that’s contagious, believe me), and of course do not have any clue about how to raise a child," he says.

The great Indian family structure is changing and its effects are being felt everywhere, including the workplace. Mothers have to work, and fathers can’t quite afford to pick up their lunch boxes and disappear into their offices for the day. An increasing number of grandparents are also working and don’t have the time to look after their grandchildren; nor do they live in the same household. “And you sure don’t get a grandparent’s leave," says Guha. His parents and parents-in-law are all working.

While maternity leave means three months of paid leave for the new mommy, fathers have to avail their casual and privilege leaves, which don’t come in the form of entitlements. So if after a sleepless night at the hospital, the boss says “no" to your leave, be ready to report to work at 9am.

The context

It’s not quite fair to compare India with the egalitarian Scandinavian countries, but for the sake of reference, all working parents in Sweden are entitled to 16 months combined paid leave every time they have a child. At least two months are required to be used by the “minority" parent (often, the father), although progressive parties in Sweden have been lobbying that this period too be split equally between the parents. Other European countries have, if not as much, at least some recognition that employees must be entitled to paternity leave. In Australia, both parents get three months each of paid leave. In India, Central and state government rules provide for 90 days of paid maternity leave and 14 days of paid paternity leave for the first two children.

“While the rules regarding maternity leave have been adopted in full by the private sector, they haven’t done the same for paternity leave. There is no legislation that makes it mandatory for private sector firms to grant paternity leave," says Saurabh Suman Sinha, a Supreme Court lawyer.

E. Balaji, director and CEO of Chennai-based HR firm Ma Foi, says, “Whatever little there is, is a token goodwill gesture in some MNCs based in India, or progressive Indian companies are trying to introduce it to the Indian workspace."

Guha, for instance, got some benefits from his company after that first one week. “There is no clear policy on paternity leave in my organization but my boss and HR were helpful. I need to travel for my job, and they gave me respite from that. Also, I could reach office a bit late in the morning, which of course was of immense help," he says. The phone calls, however, came relentlessly.

Aniruddha Ghosh, a chartered accountant at Manesar-based Agilent Technologies, got five days off as paternity leave, plus a bonus 15 days, as his company’s annual shutdown coincided with his son’s birth. “Although this was nothing to do with the paternity benefits, it was a huge help because there were complications when my son was born and I was able to take care of things at home," says Ghosh.

With concepts such as the joint family fast disappearing and men taking on multiple roles, organizations need to retune their HR policies, says Balaji. “Traditionally, women went to live with their parents during delivery and afterwards. Increasingly, however, we have nuclear families, and the support systems are vanishing," he adds.

The progressives

Almost a year back, G-Cube, a Delhi-based IT company, decided to revamp its human resource policy structure. Among other changes, it introduced paternity leave. The company now gives 15 days paid leave to fathers.

Organizations such as G-Cube, which traditionally began with no such policy, have realized the importance of providing paternity leave to employees as part of their retention strategy. “We have been around for 10 years now and increasingly, over the last few years, have been getting employee feedback about paternity leave. This is one of the most essential employee benefits we decided to offer our employees as part of our retention policy," says Dipti Sinha, HR manager, G-Cube.

HCL Technologies introduced a paternity leave policy in January 2006. The company grants five days paternity leave, flexible work timings and the option of working from home in the initial three months. The idea is to “enable employees in various ways to effectively balance the needs of work and home," says Dilip Kumar Srivastava, corporate vice-president and global HR head, HCL Technologies.

Kameshwari Rao, director, People Success, at Sapient, an IT firm, says that if organizations are to thrive in a social context where nuclear families and “hands-on parenting" is becoming the norm, it is imperative for them to allow fathers “to participate in this important aspect of their life". And adds that the company gives five days off to “our new fathers" to spend time with their family.

Pune-based IT firm KPIT Cummins follows a similar philosophy and stresses that granting paternity leave isn’t just about aiding employees “emotionally", but also “operationally". Although the firm offers three days leave, this too has found favour with employees. “Paternity leaves help the father to be part of the support system needed during these times—be it helping out in hospitalization and post-delivery care or travelling to spend quality time with the new addition and the spouse," says Sumedha Nashikkar, head of human resources, KPIT Cummins.

Employees have responded positively. But Sapient’s Rao, stressing that such measures “encourage inclusiveness" and show employees “we are participating in our people’s happiness", adds that these are nonetheless “symbolic gestures".

The idea should be to move beyond the “token goodwill" mode, and for more organizations to adopt it, adds Balaji. A policy on paternity leave, says Guha, should include “15 days of no work (not even office phone calls), followed by 15 days of work from home and two months of late reporting and no travel out of station." “Ideally, it should become HR mandate enforced by the government rather than something you have to earn out of your sick and earned leaves. This should be an employee right," adds Guha.