Vishal Popat from Pearson talks about his experience of taking Shared Parental Leave.
The day Vishal Popat found out about Shared Parental Leave he spoke to his boss about it. Both he and she had never heard of it before. By the following morning she had messaged Vishal, having researched it and told him to 100% take it and enjoy himself.
Vishal, who is a senior talent adviser for technology and global products at learning company Pearson, did just that and says: “It was fantastic and the best thing I have ever done as well as the hardest.”
He had been with Pearson for around a year when he told HR that his wife was pregnant. They explained his options. He had assumed he would take two weeks’ paternity leave and return to work. Vishal was told about SPL. After talking it through with his wife, it was clear it was the best option for their family. “We grabbed it with both hands,” he says.
Vishal just had to fill in one form to get his four months off. He thought it would be easier for the business if he took the leave in one block so they could get someone in to cover for him. His wife, whose work contract had ended, was off at the same time as him.
Vishal says the fact of being around every day for four months helped forge a strong bond with his baby. In his NCT group every other dad went straight back to work after two weeks and he says they felt anxious about looking after their children on their own. Vishal, however, feels he knows what he is doing and has been through most scenarios. “I feel totally okay being alone with a child. It’s like second nature and my child can feel that. It is not just a mum that can have that relationship,” says Vishal.
He adds that taking the leave has had “a massively positive impact” on his relationship with his wife.
He has been telling all his friends about how fantastic the experience has been and explaining how it works. Many have since looked into it and he is sure it will become the norm.
About four weeks before he was due to return to work Vishal tore a knee ligament, requiring an operation. He had to work from home for several weeks after his operation.
During his time off he had kept in touch with colleagues via a whatsapp group, but if he ever asked about work he was told to focus on his leave. The support from Pearson was great, he says. He adds that returning to work made him appreciate how difficult it must be for mums who have taken maternity leave to return. “Until you go through it yourself you do not realise how hard it is. It is like you leave your soul behind every day you go into work. It was definitely very difficult to start with, but it is easier now,” he says.
He admits that the initial few days when he returned to work and was no longer ‘job sharing’ the baby care were hard for his wife, although she soon adapted.
Vishal works full time, but can work two to three days a week from home. He says he would “1,000 per cent” take SPL again. “Going through an experience like that transforms your life and the way you think and makes you more empathetic to other people’s situations,” he says.
*You can find out more about Pearson and its policies here.