Shared Parental Leave: The quiet revolution, how mothers and fathers share work and care
Published: 7 Apr 2015
Shared Parental Leave, which becomes an entitlement for many parents from today (April 5th), provides a real opportunity for employers to demonstrate their support for parents, and their commitment to equality between men and women within the wider context of a supportive work-life culture. Awareness of Shared Parental Leave is already higher than it has been for Additional Paternity Leave, the little-used scheme it replaces, and take up is likely to be higher than it ever was for APL. The Working Families legal advice helpline, for example, shows women and men already enquiring about eligibility and entitlement.
Working Families CEO Sarah Jackson comments,
“The workplace of the future will be shaped by the aspirations and values of a younger generation of workers, who have an expectation of more equally shared work and parenting, and opportunities for full participation in family life. “
Already amongst Working Families employer members, anecdotal indications are that take-up of SPL could be as high as 20 per cent and that men will take between four and 12 weeks, most likely when the new baby arrives and then again when their partner transitions back to work.
Employers should seriously consider matching contractually enhanced pay and benefits during SPL to those currently available to women employees who are on maternity leave. The potential gains, from an engagement point of view, are substantial, and the marginal costs relatively low – for larger employers, the equivalent of two or three extra maternity leavers per hundred each year.
“But we realise that at present, many employers either do not feel ready to match their maternity package, or offer only statutory leave and pay. Still they are committed to creating inclusive workplaces which support fathers. These employers should concentrate on communications to promote SPL as a new statutory right which the organisation welcomes and which it encourages all employees who are expecting or planning children to consider for their family.”
“SPL is really a chance for employers to benefit from increased engagement and commitment, by going with the grain of employees’ family lives and aspirations as new parents. We are seeing the beginning of a quiet revolution in how fathers and mothers share work and care.”
According to the Modern Families Index, launched by Working Families and Bright Horizons in January 2015 fathers felt more positive than mothers about the ease of taking SPL. This may reflect that even though mothers gain the opportunity to share care of their new baby with their partner, they may also have a feeling of making a sacrifice by giving up some of their materntity leave.
The report found strong evidence of gendered beliefs about who is best at caring, which echo the finding that fathers in particular would ideally like their partner to give up work to focus on childcare.
- 45 per cent of men and 44 per cent of women thought that looking after a baby was a role best done by mothers.
- 60 per cent of fathers and 64 per cent of mothers agreed that SPL was a good thing because it lets fathers spend more time with their baby
- 55 per cent of fathers and 57 per cent of mothers agreed that parenting should be shared more equally
- 51 per cent of fathers and 46 per cent of mothers agreed that time off for mothers is more important than time off for fathers
In terms of the structure and pay of SPL, parents were clear that it needed to be paid at near-salary replacement levels to make it a viable option.
- 55 per cent of fathers and 61 per cent of mothers agreed that this would be necessary to make it a realistic option. Evidence from paternity leave schemes in other countries shows that pay levels are a crucial factor for fathers in determining whether they take some form of paternity leave.
- 45 per cent of fathers thought that their employer will not like men making use of SPL, and 32 per cent of women though this too. Predicting their employer’s attitude to SPL is probably based on observations that parents have made about how fathers with family responsibilities are viewed and treated. It may be that they have seen other fathers penalised in some way for working in a more family-friendly way (perhaps through working flexibly) or they may extrapolate from what they have seen in the treatment of mothers who have gone on, and returned from, maternity leave.
- More parents agree than disagree that being allowed to use SPL will boost their commitment to their employer. This has important implications, suggesting that there may be a business case in terms of employee engagement and motivation that employers can benefit from by introducing SPL as a realistic (well-paid and positively supported) option for employees.
Uptake of SPL will therefore not only depend on how it is structured and paid, although this is of paramount importance; there are also cultural beliefs amongst mothers and fathers about who should be caring.
More information for working parents interested in Shared Parental Leave can be found here https://workingfamilies.org.uk/article-categories/shared-parental-leave/
The Working Families SPL Briefing Paper can be found here https://workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/shared-parental-leave-briefing-paper/ along with an SPL Costs Calculator for employers.
SPL Employer Case Studies can be found here https://workingfamilies.org.uk/employers/case-studies/shared-parental-leave/
Employers Guide to SPL can be found here https://workingfamilies.org.uk/employers/employer-guides-toolkits-and-policies/shared-parental-leave-factsheet-for-employers/
A number of useful guides for parents considering SPL can be found here http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4911
The Modern Families Index was published on 27th January 2015 and is available to download here: https://workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Modern-Family-Index-full-report-FINAL.pdf