Has shared parental leave failed?

With a report today suggesting only 1%* of eligible fathers have taken Shared Parental Leave (SPL), some are questioning whether the scheme has been a failure?

The Government are not due to review SPL until 2018, so until then, what conclusions can we draw?

SPL isn’t publicised enough
Many workplaces still do not do enough to promote the SPL scheme, despite it being in place for a year and receiving heavy publicity during its inception.

While workplaces still assume that the woman will bear the responsibility for child-rearing, fathers are likely to find they are not told about the possibility of sharing the parental leave with the mother.

To combat this, employers should look to include literature on SPL within internal documents such as employee handbooks. Policies should also be put in place to make sure Line Managers are equipped to deal with requests.

Unwillingness of women to share parental leave
Possibly the most surprising reason for the low take-up in SPL is women being reluctant to share their parental leave with fathers, in fact 55% of women stated they didn’t want to share leave (according to research from My Family Care).

Reasons for this resistance were not specified, but could be down to a number of factors including misunderstanding of how SPL works; mothers and fathers are able to take leave together so no parent needs to feel they are missing out on essential milestones, or leave can be taken separately to give each parent individual time with their child, or parents can combine leave to be both separate and together at different times.

This comes back to the lack of understanding around SPL and suggests that employers and the government could do more to make employees more aware of their rights when they become parents.

Stereotypes over the share of parental responsibility may also be a factor, with 57% of woman stating they felt their male partners would face negative impacts on their career if they took more than the statutory paternity leave.

Financial implications
Overwhelmingly, fathers cite financial reasons as the main factor in their turning down SPL. Unfortunately, men continue to earn more than their female counterparts, for many families the loss of the male wages can be too much of a financial burden, with 80% of both men and women saying the decision whether to take SPL would depend on their finances and the enhancement of SPL an employer could offer.

What can we do moving forward?
As a nation, the UK needs to consider how we view family life and the balance between work and home. However, we shouldn’t expect changes to happen overnight, countries where SPL is regarded as an established feature in the workplace, such as Sweden, have worked for decades to see SPL accepted as a given within the workplace.

Employers should have clear and easily accessible policies on parental leave, available to all employees, and managers should be aware of the legislation surrounding SPL and be confident in answering queries and dealing with requests.

If your workplace needs help with SPL policies, call Deminos on 020 7870 1090 now.

*The statistics are in dispute, as it may be that all male staff were questioned about intention to take SPL, regardless of whether they actually qualified (e.g. they weren’t fathers).

Author chris swindells

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