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Have you heard of Shared Parental Leave? If not, you’re in the majority. Since the introduction of the Shared Parental Leave scheme in 2015, of the 285,000 eligible couples a meager 2% took it up (that’s only 5700 couples!). The reasons behind this low participation highlight the challenges that policymakers, employers and parents face in our shared quest for more equitable working conditions.

You’re probably wondering how SPL could benefit a business? It comes down to productivity, which is directly related to job satisfaction, well-being and work-life balance. It’s no coincidence that our Swedish neighbours are known as one of the happiest societies and have one of the most productive economies.

 

Share the joy!

Earlier this year the government launched a campaign to address the low participation in the scheme. Business minister Andrew Griffiths said: “Shared parental leave gives choice to families. Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle – they can share the childcare, and share the joy.

“Employers can reap the benefits too. We know that flexibility in work is proven to create happier, more loyal and more productive workforces.

“Providing truly flexible employment options is a key part of the Industrial Strategy, the Government’s long-term plan to build a Britain fit for the future by helping businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK.”

Whilst it’s great to want to enable fathers getting more involved with family life, (early years to be exact) some say the campaign will fail because it misses the point, suggesting there are underlying reasons that fathers aren’t taking up their right to shared leave, and in order to make SPL a viable option for most, these should be addressed at their root.

 

Two birds, one stone

Addressing the barriers to SPL and helping new parents to share the burden can be beneficial to both the employee (increasing their well-being) and the employer (increasing productivity over time).

Cultural stigma: According to research by TSB, published in February 2018, 49% of fathers believe there is a cultural stigma attached to them taking leave to be more involved in the early days of their child’s life, and that this is not the “normal” way to approach parenthood. Sure, it’s not what’s happened traditionally, but then neither is the use of technology in every facet of life, (and that’s had an excellent uptake, enhancing our lives no end). As Bob Dylan said, “the times they are a changin'” and many new fathers would love to be more involved in that important first year, forward-thinking employers would like to see more of their male staff taking up shared parental leave too.

 

How the Swedes do it

In Sweden, to combat this cultural stigma, fathers are offered 3 months paternal leave that is non-transferable to the mother (in addition to SPL), helping to make it normal in this society for fathers to take leave at this time. In the same way that in times gone by fathers weren’t present at the birth, but we now all view this as completely normal.

Financial barriers: this is certainly a big factor. New fathers may go into a baby panic, acutely aware of responsibility to provide for their new edition. Employers can help alleviate this panic through family friendly policies and attitudes, reassuring staff that taking leave to care for a child will not mean they must sacrifice future career development, (or indeed their job).

Employers can also help by paying an enhanced rate of paternity pay, in line with their rate of maternity pay, making shared leave a more viable option. In Sweden, Norway and Iceland new parents are paid 80 – 100 % of their normal wages and 85 – 90% of fathers take up the leave as a result.

Case in point: Should parental leave be paid the same regardless?

A recent case (Capita vs Mr Ali) saw the differing rates of maternity and paternity pay questioned at the Employment Tribunal (and again at Employment Appeal Tribunal) when Mr Ali brought a case against Capita for direct sex discrimination. The case was based on the fact that Mr Ali (due to his wife’s medical condition) took up the remaining 12 weeks (of the first 14 week chunk) of parental leave offered to his wife. If she had been on maternity she would have received an enhanced rate of pay, but he was not offered the same enhanced rate of pay (because he is a man).

The ET agreed with Mr Ali – this is discrimination, and whichever parent is the main carer, they should be paid their leave at the same rate. The EAT disagreed – there are innate differences between the sexes that must be considered, in this case the fact that Mr Ali was not recovering from the physical trauma of birth, so did not qualify for the enhanced rate of pay which exists to protect the health and well-being of a woman during and after pregnancy and childbirth. It’s food for thought and plays into the wider conversation about workplace equality between the sexes.

 

Awareness of the scheme: Many fathers are not aware of their obligation to disclose that they (as a couple) are expecting, or their right to shared parental leave. Meaning they often don’t request the

leave they want until a couple of weeks before the baby is due. As an employer, if you get wind that someone’s other half is expecting or that one of your staff is going through the adoption process, it’s advisable for you to have a chat sooner rather than later and let them know their rights in terms of SPL. This will give you the chance to plan cover well in advance if they choose to take it up.

 

Ways to address and shift the culture

Savvy employers are embracing flexible working, job shares and part-time options as standard rather than as exceptions (for both female and male staff), reassuring employees that their jobs will not be in jeopardy when they start a family. This helps shift the cultural stigma around active fatherhood by normalising it and integrating a positive work/life balance into the culture of a business.

A family friendly culture will filter down from the top and contribute to a wider cultural shift towards equality between the sexes. With all the recent coverage of this issue, it’s a great time to embrace this shift and your brand’s rep will gain credibility for it. Swedish initiatives prove that employers will benefit from bolstering SPL, by attracting better candidates to apply for jobs (by widening the recruitment pool to include and support parents) and retaining loyal staff who are motivated and most importantly, highly productive because they feel fairly treated and are not burnt out from the work/ family juggle.

For help on how to manage SPL please see our quick blog here >>

If your business could benefit from advice on how to manage this kind of situation please call us on 03334440164 or email us on help@citrushr.com

If you’d just like to streamline the associated admin (and all HR admin), have you considered using HR software? Click here for a free trial >>