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Santander HR man Steven Marshall reckons employees and employers ought to embrace Shared Parental Leave and better paternity policies
Given Steven Marshall is a senior HR manager at Santander you’d expect him to talk up the company’s offer for dads.
But his praise for the firm’s policies comes from a particularly credible place. He’s lived them. From taking extra paternity leave when his son Zac was born last year to preparing for Shared Parental Leave next year.
His example demonstrates that family life is complicated and one size doesn’t fit all. But he’s an interesting case study in making policies work for everyone – dad, mum, baby and employer.
Steven joined Santander’s ‘Corporate Bank and Risk’ HR team a couple of years ago. He admits most of his family don’t really know what he does! But he sums it up as “literally anything that impacts people I am involved with!”.
Santander’s parental policies were key to recruiting him. “When I was negotiating to join Santander – the day after they made an offer to me we found out we were expecting Zac,” he explains. “So, part of my negotiation was around the family friendly policies on offer. They actually helped me make my decision to join Santander. Where I was previously working only had one week of paid paternity leave and no paid Shared Parental Leave. Santander’s offer was four weeks of paternity leave and 12 weeks of SPL.”
But Zac took his time in arriving and two common themes in successful paternity policies came into play – support and flexibility. “My manager was very supportive in the two weeks that Zac was overdue, allowing me real flexibility to be close to home and work some strange hours!”
And there was no funny looks or implicit disapproval when Steven took his four weeks of paternity leave. That meant he could concentrate on getting family life off to a decent start. “Zac wouldn’t sleep – he still isn’t great! – and so that first few weeks when you are in a haze of love and confusion and sleep deprivation it’s so nice to be able to support your partner and grow that bond with the baby in the early days. It definitely made me a better dad.”
And it’s made him a better employee too. “I am more rounded, empathetic, I think my decision making is better. And the goodwill I feel towards Santander and my manager means my discretionary effort has absolutely increased. This has been reflected in my delivery, feedback and performance ratings!”
Steven didn’t end up taking the opportunity of Shared Parental Leave with Zac. His story does throw up some of the drawbacks around the policy in general. SPL still relies on the mum ‘giving up’ some of her maternity leave. Because they had waited a while to start their family and because partner Jen didn’t enjoy her job in the way he loves his Steven felt it would be unfair to make her go back to work so he could have some SPL.
And the process of applying for leave can seem complicated.
Steven’s taking action on both fronts. “I’ve volunteered to be part of a team that makes the policies more accessible to everyone and far easier to understand the art of the possible. There are lots of forms, which seems unnecessarily bureaucratic.”
And he’ll be filling in the forms and taking Shared Parental Leave when his daughter arrives in January. Interestingly he’s seen a colleague in his team at Santander use SPL, suggesting once again that role models can be powerful in persuading men to consider new ideas.
“This time we’ve made the decision Jen won’t return to work post maternity leave. So if I take SPL we can spend 12 weeks as a family which would be awesome,” smiles Steven. Of course it’s up to each family how they use their SPL and Steven and Jen are letting their imaginations run wild! “We are thinking of just renting a villa in France for a couple of months or heading over to see friends and family in Australia and just spending time together as a foursome. It’s unlikely there will be any more children after this one so this feels like our real opportunity to take advantage of a unique opportunity.”
Steven’s enthusiasm for policies that allow him to be a better dad and a better employee is clear. Inevitably he wants to encourage other men to do the same. His advice is simple. “Do it! You won’t regret it. And any extra time you spend with your family you will become a better father and person. Be present, learn the hard things and don’t sweat the small stuff. If you are worried about your reputation or leaving your role trust your track record of delivery and embrace it.”
And he’s keen to emphasise the benefits to business too, something he can see wearing his HR hat. His advice to employers echoes what he’d say to fathers. “Your employees will become better, giving you more effort and being more rounded people. This isn’t a one way street. People don’t just take. They understand and appreciate the organisation’s position that it requires work and effort from others to ensure you can take advantage of this privilege. Don’t be resentful or do it because you have to – embrace it and learn from it continuously.”
Whether it’s a man about to become a dad, a firm looking at how their parental policies might work, or just anyone pondering life it seems like a sensible approach: embrace it and learn from it.