Evolving demands of work-life

Assistant professor shares her research on evolving legislation and parental leave


Dr. Rachael Pettigrew, an assistant professor, in a 2019 Research Week feature

About Dr. Rachael Pettigrew

Dr. Rachael Pettigrew is an Assistant Professor in the Bissett School of Business and Communications, teaching courses on organizational behaviour and human resources. With a deep commitment to social justice, Rachael’s primary research focus is on organizational culture and policies surrounding employees’ work-life responsibilities, with a specific focus on gender. Here, Dr. Pettigrew shares her research findings around how recent legislative change has impacted leave usage among fathers and its role in changing gender dynamics, both in the workplace and the home. 

Her research was featured here last April as part of Research Week. We caught up with her so she could tell us about her research in her own words.

Parental leave and employer policies

Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, filled with both joys and new responsibilities. For working parents, learning to juggle the demands and expectations between work and home can present significant growing pains. In Canada, the intention of maternity and parental leaves is to help provide new parents time to adapt to their new roles and connect with their newborn, while also supporting parents’ connection to the workforce. Though maternity leave is for birth mothers only, parental leave can be taken exclusively by either parent or shared between parents (Government of Canada 2019). 

Even though mothers and fathers can take leave, the vast majority (88%) of parental leave-takers in Canada are women (Department of Finance 2018). Women still face workplace stigma resulting from leave use and the assumption of future work interruptions. Whereas leave use for women is assumed, fatherhood is virtually invisible in the workplace and leave use in not expected. Therefore, despite today’s fathers being more involved in childcare, men have a steeper uphill battle in accessing family-friendly policies in the workplace. 

My research has explored the workplace characteristics that influence men’s leave usage. Not surprisingly, men are more likely to take leave when they work for an employer they perceive to be family-friendly. Men who report to supportive managers and have seen a coworker take leave without negative repercussions to their career are also more likely to take leave (Pettigrew, 2014). It is important to remember that early father engagement with their children has long-term benefits for fathers (Ravanera & Hoffman, 2012), children (Croft, Schmader, Block & Baron, 2014), and marriages (Tokhi et al. 2018). 

Therefore, employers’ policies, organizational cultures, and support play a key role in not only parental leave uptake, but also the well-being of employees and their perceived work-life balance. Canadian employers need to be thinking strategically about their policies and culture as a key competitive advantage in attracting and keeping key talent. My research encourages employers to disrupt or reframe how they view care responsibilities, because families today are more diverse in form and also their approach to dividing care responsibilities. For example, today 60% of university graduates are women and almost 30% of mothers out-earn their partners in heterosexual relationships, which will influence which partner takes leave, whose career takes priority, and the division of housework and care responsibilities.

Employers can no longer make gendered assumptions about which applicant or employee will be more likely to experience work interruptions or be interested in extensive travel.  As such, I would encourage employers to evaluate their policies for gendered and heterocentric language to avoid unintentionally dissuading individuals from policy usage. 



Alumnus Jermaine Kootenay, BBA'14, with his three sons

Policies for the whole family

As organizations begin thinking strategically about the work-family needs of their employees, I also challenge employers to think more broadly about the family and care demands their employees face. Employers often think of childcare when they draft policies that support the work-family lives of their employees. However, given our declining fertility rate and the size of our older population, it is more likely that the most common form of caregiving facing employees in the future will be elder care. The aging population will also create a war for talent for employers that will intensify as the younger baby boomers retire in 10 to 15 years, which will result in a buyers’ market for job hunters. This creates a sense of urgency for employers to create workplaces that are welcoming, supportive of the work and family lives of their employees, and support employees holistically to successfully recruit and retain employees. 

Responding to shifting dynamics

As gender dynamics in the workplace and care responsibilities in the home continue to evolve, so will government and employer policies. In December 2017 parental leave was extended from 35 to 61 weeks and in March 2019 the introduction of the new Shared Parenting Benefit offers fathers who share parental leave their own 5 to 8 weeks of leave (Government of Canada 2019). My current research is exploring how Canadian employers’ are responding to the leave extension and how they have adapted their internal policies in response to the changes. I hope to understand the impact of this parental leave extension on both employers and employees’ careers. Family-friendly policies combined with a supportive organizational culture are critical in helping employees. When employees feel supported they return the favour with loyalty, investment and engagement in their work, which also benefits the employer.  

Given the shifting Canadian demographics, government and employers need to ensure that the policies we develop are addressing the needs of employees or no one benefits. That said, work-life balance and supportive policies are no longer “women’s” policies, they are parent policies. Supporting men in leave usage will create space for men to be engaged and fulfilled fathers and in turn, will assist in reducing the workplace stigma experienced by women.


Feb. 10, 2020 ― Dr. Rachael Pettigrew




Croft, A., Scmader, T., Block, J., & Baron, A. (2014). The second shift reflected in the second generation: Do parents’ gender roles at home predict children’s aspirations? Psychological Science, 25(7), 1418-1428. Doi:10.1177/0956797614533968=

Government of Alberta (2019). Maternity and parental leave. Retrieved from https://www.alberta.ca/maternity-parental-leave.aspx

Pettigrew, R. N. (2014) Parental leave use by male employees: Corporate culture, managerial attitudes, and employees’ perceptions (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1993/23973.

Ravanera, Z., & Hoffman, J. (2012). Canadian fathers: Demographic and socio-economic profiles from census and national surveys. In J. Ball & K. Daly (Eds.), Father involvement in Canada: Diversity, renewal, and transformation (pp. 207-223). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Tokhi. M., Comrie-Thomson, L., Davis, J., Prtela, A., Chersich, M., & Luchters, S. (2018).

Involving men to improve maternal and newborn health: A systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions. PLoS one, 13(1), e0191620.