Following the introduction of new regulations in 2015, women were given the option of exchanging their maternity leave for shared parental leave (SPL). After the initial two weeks leave new mothers are still obliged to take, parents can choose how to divide the remaining 50 weeks they’re entitled to between them. Despite this, a study published by the commercial law firm EMW in September last year revealed that fewer than 1% of parents eligible for shared parental leave (SPL) are opting to take it.
Is it because of a cultural stigma about men taking a significant amount of time off work to care for children? Or perhaps new mothers are worried about being judged for returning to work so quickly? Or is it simply the increased financial pressures at this time are putting people off taking SPL? Despite its slow start, there are many benefits of the shared parental leave scheme for both companies and employees, and there are many reasons why organisations should promote them:
You will attract top talent
The perks of a job are often just as likely to attract a candidate to a role as a salary (that may be very similar elsewhere). Having the option for both parents to spend time with their baby is not only a positive benefit to offer, it also ensures that your company is seen as modern and dynamic – something that is likely to attract the very best talent. In particular, this is likely to appeal to women in senior positions because they know they can return to work quicker without compromising on their baby’s childcare.
It improves staff retention
Thanks to common childcare issues and costs, many women in the UK are forced to leave the workforce entirely until their children start school or are entitled to free pre-school care. This deprives companies of valuable talent that they might be able to hold onto if shared parental leave was promoted.
Working parents will feel more goodwill and loyalty towards their employer if they know SPL is an option. This will increase retention rates among working parents and make mothers more likely to return to work after maternity leave.
Leave can be taken at the same time
Shared parental leave can be taken at the same time or at different times. While most couples may prefer to split the 50 weeks up so that one of them is at home to look after the baby for the full year, there are actually benefits of taking leave at the same time:
- Having both parents at home means that couples can share childcare responsibilities, which is likely to reduce stress and sleepless nights. If becoming a new parent is less mentally and physically draining, this will naturally help to improve overall wellbeing.
- Because responsibilities are shared it means that both men and women are more likely to return to work in a positive frame of mind and will therefore be more productive from day one.
- It reduces the amount of time that both men and women are away from work.
It stops gender bias
Research carried out by the Institute of Leadership and Management suggests that gender gaps in terms of salary and career progression are often associated with women taking time out to start a family. Whether companies do this consciously or unconsciously, women are often held back from being promoted or even hired if they seem a likely to take time off work to have children in the near future. If the ‘risk’ of this happening is equal for both men and women however, the potential for this prejudice is greatly reduced.
More information about SPL and eligibility can be found on the gov.uk website.