Dads and Shared Parental Leave: How employers can up their game.

Today’s contribution to the blog comes from Jamie Atkinson, Senior Law Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced by the government in April 2015. It enables eligible parents to take up to 50 weeks leave in the first year of their child’s life (37 weeks of which can be paid). Parents can take continuous or discontinuous blocks of leave and can take some leave together or independently. A key policy aim was to encourage fathers (widely defined) to take a longer period of leave to care for their child, provided that their spouse or partner had either returned to work or given notice to return.

To date, there has been a very poor take up rate of SPL, with parents still preferring to take either maternity or paternity leave. (Paternity leave entitles eligible dads to take one or two weeks leave within eight weeks of the birth or placement of a child for adoption.) One recent study estimated that only 1% of parents eligible for SPL last year had taken it[1]. Clearly there are aspects of the policy itself which need to be improved, including the fact that there is not a period of leave specifically reserved for fathers on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, which has been successful in increasing take up by dads in countries like Sweden.

But in this blog, I want to focus on things that employers can do to encourage employees with caring responsibilities, particularly dads, to take SPL and to access flexible working policies generally. This is not to ignore the fact that some studies have shown that dads’ personal circumstances and attitudes towards their caring role are more important than organisational factors[2]. But many dads will only take SPL if they feel that their request will not damage their career in some way. Many companies are yet to be persuaded of the business benefits of allowing all employees (rather than just mothers) to work flexibly and/or to take a block of time away from work to look after young children. Many studies have shown that employees who feel that they have an effective balance between work and family life are more productive, committed and loyal and less likely to be absent. This has clear benefits to businesses including retention of experienced staff, keeping a diverse workforce and a reduction in hiring and re-training costs[3]. Other studies have shown that employees who work shorter hours feel that they work more efficiently.

Other employers have written policies in place to support parents but they are not being taken up. In order to encourage employees to make use of them, the right messages need to come from executive and senior management level, together with more effective communication of policies to employees. This will hopefully begin to influence the behaviour and attitude of employees and line managers. Another change which would increase uptake is to challenge the perception that utilising these policies is something which isn’t normally done by fathers (or men generally). Societal expectations of fathers are changing, and many fathers want to become more actively involved with looking after their children. Companies need to recognise this. Studies by Suzan Lewis have argued that the presence of work-life balance policies has not necessarily challenged deep-rooted assumptions that employees’ commitment or productivity is measured by their willingness to ‘put the work in’ i.e. to work long hours when necessary[4]. Many employers need to move to a situation where productivity is more objectively measured.

This is not to say that all dads who request SPL or flexible work have a hard time. My own work in this area has shown that there are employers which support dads taking SPL. Some employers are taking the lead and support their employees by paying them above the statutory level of pay whilst on leave. Following some pilot research, I have produced an action plan for employers who want to increase their support for dads who want to take SPL and for employees who are parents with young kids more generally[5]. We know that millennials want to have a better balance between life and work[6]. Technology continues to make huge changes to working life. Employers are going to have to change or risk losing employees with caring responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

[1] www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/09/18/fewer-than-9-000-new-parents-took-shared-parental-leave-last-year.aspx

[2] Haas, Allard & Hwang (2002), The impact of organizational culture on men’s use of parental leave in Sweden, Community, Work & Family 5(3), 319-342

[3] McDonald, Brown & Bradley (2005), Explanations for the provision‐utilisation gap in work‐life policy, Women in Management Review 20(1), 37-55

[4] Lewis, (1997), ‘Family Friendly’ Employment Policies: A Route to Changing Organizational Culture or Playing About at the Margins? Gender, Work and Organization 4(1), 13-23

[5] http://www.business.mmu.ac.uk/cpp/research-projects.php

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/work/problem-millennials-workplace/

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