If employers REALLY want more men to take Shared Parental Leave here’s how

What if employers invited expectant fathers to tell them they are expecting a baby? How might this affect the take-up of Shared Parental Leave?

“They’re just hasn’t been the take-up we thought there would be,” is what I hear most often when I ask clients and HR practitioners about shared parental leave. This week at a WISE Campaign knowledge share event on flexible working Eleanor Silverio, UK Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, was candid about their low take-up of SPL at Shell. She explained that in their experience fathers are not actively seeking to be primary carers home alone with baby, and those who do take SPL leave are doing so for other reasons. These reasons may include practical necessity such as a mother with an injury or a desire to take a sabbatical. An HR Director I spoke to a couple of years ago took additional paternity leave (APL), as it was then, to address troubles with his ageing parents and APL was a good vehicle for taking time out. It was not out of a desire to care for his son instead of being at work.

The barriers to men taking SPL have been well-documented (the two biggest ones being lack of financial viability, as men are on average the higher earners, and it going against cultural norms). In a piece I wrote three years ago on the business benefits of active fathers I argued that SPL would flop unless parental leave was sliced into three with a proportion dedicated to the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis that is well paid. This would serve to speed up cultural change.

But who wants cultural change? Do employers? A shift towards co-parenting and it being equally likely a father takes a significant period of leave to care for his baby as a mother is good for women’s careers and children’s development. HOWEVER, it doesn’t make sense for individual employers to expend much energy convincing their daddy employees to take SPL unless:

1.      The mother of their child is an employee at the same organisation and

2.      She occupies a middle to senior role and

3.      The organisation is keen to keep female brains in the business (because they’re aware of the commercial benefits of a gender-balanced senior team).

If employers really do want fathers to take-up SPL they need to start asking these employees to let them know that they are expecting. This is the start of cultural change and can be achieved through some simple internal comms, including stories of high profile men in the organisation or wider industry who have taken time out. This raises awareness of what SPL is, that it’s OK to take it and how it could be of benefit to the individual. Women returning from maternity leave are fresh, motivated and come with  new perspectives and solutions to their organisation’s challenges – and with support they quickly return or exceed their previous peak performance. They’re assets and it’s about time we treated them as such and encouraged fathers to get in on the act too.

The Talent Keeper Specialists are in the business of keeping, engaging and boosting the performance of returning employees be they on maternity, adoption, shared parental, sick leave or sabbatical. We want to do more work with fathers and hope the profile of participants at our Comeback Community workshops changes to include more men over the next five years.

This post was first published on LinkedIn 2/3/17. Today, 18/2/18, the UK Government has announced a ‘Share the Joy’ campaign to encourage more men to take Shared Parental Leave.

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