FATHERS are making strides in sharing parenting duties, with more taking up government-paid parental leave.

As of June, more than 13,000 new fathers have taken paternity leave since it was introduced in May last year, said the National Population and Talent Division yesterday.

The proportion of working fathers who took at least four days of childcare leave also rose to 49 per cent last year, from 37 per cent in 2009.

The take-up rate for mothers went up from 50 per cent to 59 per cent over the same period, shrinking the gap between dads and mums. "More fathers are playing a greater role (in parenting), and this can strengthen family cohesion and bonding with children," said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who oversees population matters.

But more can be done for the family at work, she told reporters. Employees should speak frankly with supervisors about their needs, while middle managers should build trusting relationships with staff, she said.

Bosses need to view their engagement of employees as a business strategy, especially in the light of tight labour conditions.

"A system that has that flexibility allowing employees to shift gears and then shift forward again will do better in retaining people and in creating a more supportive environment," she said.

Family-friendly policies are crucial, given that Singapore's total fertility rate last year of 1.19 was below the replacement rate of 2.1 per cent.

There are no plans to legislate flexible work arrangements, but the Government will not rule it out, said Ms Fu, who was speaking at law firm Rajah & Tann, where she learnt about the firm's work-life initiatives.

It gives employees additional days of paternity leave and lets them work from home and have secondments to overseas offices. Such practices helped to keep the firm's attrition rate to around 1.5 per cent last year, below the national average of 2 per cent, said partner Rebecca Chew. "We've been able to retain good lawyers, who would otherwise have left the workforce," she said.

One of the firm's lawyers, Mr Dedi Affandi Ahmad, 29, used government-paid paternity leave when his son was born in March. "I'm thankful because that's when the wife needs the most support," he said.

Although the firm has offered paternity leave since 2000, "the fact that it's now state-sanctioned evens the playing field as it doesn't affect the firm's cost competitiveness so much", he added.