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Robert Innes is coming to the end of four months of paternity leave thanks to the generous policy of his employer Zurich.
There are different ways to get the most out of paternity leave. As Robert Innes, a risk engineer for insurers Zurich, is showing.
Last September the company introduced a new policy of 16 weeks paid leave regardless the gender of the parent. Many dads will, understandably, take that time straight after their baby is born as they get to grips with their new role.
Robert’s taken a different path. He combined his statutory fortnight of leave with some holiday to give himself a month off after his daughter Margot was born last November. He started his extended paternity leave in August. Giving him nearly four months as primary caregiver as Margot approaches her first birthday.
It’s an arrangement that looks a lot like Shared Parental Leave but he’s cleverly used the Zurich policy to take the time off and get paid. He admits that without the paid leave he probably wouldn’t have taken such a long stretch of paternity leave. That speaks to Shared Parental Leave’s biggest flaw; lack of funding means many dads that want to take the time can’t afford to.
But Robert’s clear about why he wanted this period as primary caregiver. “I wanted to take the reins myself,” he explains. “Otherwise there’s a danger you become reliant on your partner, you become the sidekick.”
He adds, “Margot’s really comfortable with either of us now, and that makes life easier for both of us. I know some mums that won’t leave their child with the dad, not because they don’t trust him but there’s a nervousness that he won’t know what to do. My wife Sian can go away for a weekend and she knows I’ll be fine. That’s allowed her to rediscover the stuff she wants to do.”
Robert says he was happy to go back to work at the start of the year partly because as a homeworker he knew he’d still be around. “If I had been going back to an office I think I’d have been less keen,” he says. “Zurich has been good with a flexible working culture for some time. I could manipulate my hours to some extent and feel like I was participating at home.”
But another factor was that he knew he had this time with Margot to look forward to later in the year.
His extended paternity leave is that rare thing in 2020 – a plan that survived the wrecking effects of coronavirus.
In fact when lockdown began in the spring Robert didn’t notice too much difference. He was already working from home. He’s lucky that he says he’s able to mentally switch off from home life when he sits down to work. And now he’s switched off from his job while he focuses on being dad.
He explains, “If I’d been in an office for the last eight months then this would be jumping in at the deep end. It’s helped working from home before I did the leave, but it’s different now. My wife’s gone back to work, albeit that just means she’s upstairs, and I lead on feeding, napping, knowing Margot’s routine’s and what she likes. When I first went out on my own the changing bag was huge. But as you do it and learn the bag gets smaller again as you work out what you really need to take with you.”
That means the mental load is shared. Robert says that before he was on his extended paternity leave Sian was primary caregiver during the week and the parenting was broadly shared at the weekend. Though it wasn’t an issue, he now realises that wasn’t fair. That he should’ve stepped up to take on more of the childcare at the weekend to even things out a bit. The experience of extra paternity leave has led to a more equal partnership. “Equality was one of the reasons I wanted to do this,” says Robert. “If we have more equal parental leave then men and women will be treated equally in the workplace.”
It’s been a weird year and first time parents of course don’t have anything to compare their experience to. But Robert knows how lucky he’s been with Zurich as an employer. He explains. “I’ve a friend who lives on the same street as me who took eight weeks of paternity leave from his company. His boss asked if he had to take it. I never felt that at Zurich. It was never an issue, there was no hesitation.”