Benefits of Shared Parental Leave: it isn’t just about the finances
What are the benefits of shared parental leave and why are more couples not taking advantage of it?
Last week People Management reported in ‘Is Parental Leave Failing Parents?’ that lack of pay is the biggest barrier to more men taking up Shared Parental Leave.
We believe that whilst finances are a contributing factor, deep-rooted social norms about gender roles still play a huge part in the lack of take-up for fathers. Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, a senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, discussed the results of her research in this field with us.
What are the benefits of shared parental leave?
We believe that the full benefits of taking Shared Parental Leave are not adequately communicated – and they are not understood by those considering it. The main benefits are:
- Father/child bonding opportunity. Pew-funded research in the US in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say parenting was ‘extremely important to their identity’. For father’s health and wellbeing and for children’s future development and potential, dads need to spend more time with their children
- Opportunity for equality in the household and in relationships – The Guardian in February 2018 reported that British women are still doing 60% more housework than men – which is giving them less time and energy for their careers
- Opportunity for equality in the workplace – arguably one of the first aims of introducing Shared Parental Leave was to lessen the impact of child-rearing on the mother’s career and to encourage more men to share
- Work/family balance and reduction of stress levels – the Modern Families Index reveals one third of working fathers feels regularly ‘burnt out’ and that 1 in 5 were working extra hours
Other reasons why couples are taking advantage of shared parental leave
Being unware of the benefits of shared parental leave is one reason why many couples may not take advantage of this great opportunity. Other reasons we find it is not being utilised are;
- Awareness, understanding and communication of the policy remains the biggest barrier to SPL. Ernestine’s research shows that only 18% respondents had heard about SPL through their employer, yet 46% had heard about it on the news/in the media
- There are many factors and attitudes which influence couples’ decisions to take SPL – but when we delve deeper, we realise that many of these are perceived barriers which have evolved from lack of understanding of the policy. For example, reasons not to take SPL (from Ernestine’s research) include desire to continue breastfeeding and finances – however in reality these anxieties could be overcome by both parents taking leave simultaneously or by taking a shorter period to lessen the financial impact
How HR can help with shared parental leave in the workplace
There are several ways for HR to help employees move past these barriers, including:
- Engaging the senior leaders – linking the benefits of taking SPL to wider D&I goals such as talent development, retention and attraction; increasing the number of women in senior positions
- Increase levels of understanding to employees through case studies, checklists, examples and the opportunity to talk to someone one-to-one about personal ways of making it work
- Hold workshops to help managers and employees really understand in detail – consider introducing a leadership module on managing overall flexibility
- Ensure everyone gets paid the same for parental leave – mums and dads
What about the finances?
Finances do play a part in the decision to take Shared Parental Leave. In a situation where both parents take time off together, where the employer doesn’t enhance pay, they could be sharing £140.98 per week. Some couples minimise the impact of this by:
- One parent returning to work
- Saving a little in advance before taking leave
- Taking less than 4 weeks instead of considering several months and perhaps combining this with a week’s paid holiday before or after – biting the bullet and prioritising family-time
We have found that if couples do their research, discuss the finances well in advance, plan, communicate expectations around roles and responsibilities – there should be minimal barriers to taking Shared Parental Leave – it might just be that families decide that several weeks are most realistic for them rather than several months.