July 26, 2020

Should Shared Parental Leave be Scrapped?

There’s growing evidence that only 7% of UK employees have taken advantage of the 2015 government initiative of shared parental leave.

Why are the take-up figures of shared parental leave are so low? And what can HR teams can do to improve this?

Quick Reminder: What is Shared Parental Leave?

This is where parental couples can share up to 50 weeks’ leave between them. Plus, they can share up to 37 weeks’ pay in the first year after the birth of the child.

The policy is unlike the current maternity and paternity leave. Why? Because it allows each parent couple to look after the child in blocks of leave.

With maternity leave, mothers are – by some – looked upon favourably for taking the lion’s share of leave. However, it leads to many women dropping out of their career choices and remaining at home long-term, as primary careers.

That’s why shared parental leave should – in theory – challenge the gender equality gap, as it supports the change in attitude towards parental duties. According to the Fatherhood Institute, where primary career was once seen as a motherly duty, it’s now beginning to show that both parents can play an equal role.

So, all this begs the question: why are the take-up figures so low?

Fear of Stigma

According to research completed by PowWowWow, nearly half of UK dads have experienced some type of discrimination after taking parental leave. Further, one in four men have suffered verbal abuse or mockery.

The stigma that surrounds taking leave to look after children is rising. Fathers are intimidated to ask for leave, as the nurturing and caring role is historically related to the mother, who has traditionally been the primary carer.

However, asking for time off work for paternal leave is a legal entitlement. Therefore men should not be intimidated or discriminated against for requesting this leave.

Lack of Knowledge 

According to the same source, a whopping 67% of fathers are not aware that shared parental leave exists!

Organisations should be informing all employees about shared parental leave. They also need to promote to all expectant parents of their parental rights; especially shared parental leave and the benefits they can take advantage of.

Does it Come Down to Earning Potential?

Key changes need to be implemented for more working families to take up this initiative. In particular, financial enhancements would be a step towards more men being able to take advantage of the policy, should their pay not be compromised. 

Some organisations now provide enhanced maternity payments which allow mothers to benefit from extended maternity leave. Unfortunately, these enhancements are not always available to fathers. 

What Can HR Teams do to Improve Take-Up?

Firstly, communicate to your business that shared parental leave is an option for expectant parents in your business. Be clear on how it works and provide support to managers who have expectant parents – both men and women – on their teams.

Secondly, gain intel on the attitudes of your employees towards paternity leave and men taking up the role of primary carer. This could be in the form of speaking to managers, dropping it into water-cooler conversations, and speaking directly to new dads.

If there is a negative feeling towards men who take paternity leave, there is lots to be done! A good place to start is taking a top-down approach, i.e. are senior men in the business taking this leave and/or actively promoting it? Another option is to communicate a zero-tolerance approach to those who discriminate against new fathers that take leave or choose to be a primary carer.

Finally, review the support your provide to new parents. What additional support – in the form of leave and pay – can you provide to both mothers and fathers? Is this something you can improve? And remember to look at additional support for men as well as women.

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.

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