What works for Shared Parental Leave

New research looks at the different barriers to increasing uptake of Shared Parental Leave.

extend paternity leave


A supportive environment that does not pass judgement on fathers for taking up the policy and offers influential role models is crucial for take-up of Shared Parental Leave, according to research on Shared Parental Leave highlighted by the Government as part of the second phase of its push to promote take-up of the policy.

The research, by Dr Sarah Forbes and Dr Holly Birkett of the University of Birmingham, highlights a number of barriers to take-up of SPL, including a lack of awareness about the policy.

The researchers said: “Based on our evidence-based research it is essential to allow families to make informed choices about how to care for their child/children in the first year after birth or adoption and this will be significantly helped by improving awareness of the policy.”

Other barriers

Other barriers include finances [enhancing the pay is advised], the complexity of the legislation which means HR experts need to help employees through it and social expectations.

“Cultural norms persist in the UK suggesting that mothers will be/should be the primary carers for their children,” say the researchers.

They found mothers were reluctant to give up the full year of parental leave to their partner because they felt they were losing out on time with their baby. They add that, while dads may cling on to their role as breadwinner, some mothers feel pressure to be ‘a good mother’ which may involve dominating childrearing duties and, at times, excluding fathers.

The benefits

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is keen to communicate the benefits of sharing leave. These include greater paternal involvement in childcare, a positive impact on child development and long-term happiness and greater marital stability as well as tackling some of the causes of the gender pay gap.

Nikki Slowey, Joint Programme Director of Family Friendly Working Scotland, says:  “We know more fathers are sharing the care of children in general and they want more time to bond with a new baby in particular. This usually means fathers continue being more involved in the care – and fun – that goes with raising children, which is good for parents and children alike.

“What’s more, creating more options for fathers means mothers benefit from greater choice in how to balance their own work and home life – mothers don’t have to be the only parent to take time out. This, in turn, is good for businesses because happier employees are more engaged and productive. Shared Parental Leave is definitely something employers should embrace and encourage.”

One couple who have taken SPL are Scot and Sarah Wilson whose daughter Mairi is six months old. Scot, an operations manager from the Scottish Borders, says it seemed like the logical thing to do. “The mum and the dad should both have an equal part in the first few crucial months of the child’s life, given that it’s in the first year that the child gets to know who mum and dad are.  I feel like I would have had had very limited time to bond with Mairi if I’d been working full-time and wouldn’t have got to know her nearly as well as I have.

“I feel completely comfortable in looking after her now and, even when Sarah’s been away for a weekend, I’ve been totally happy looking after her on my own and she’s been very happy being with me.  I was well supported by my employers, which encouraged me to do it too.  If most dads were encouraged to take time by their employers, I imagine a lot more would.  The main crux of it is, why wouldn’t you want to take that time?  It’s no different from a mum taking leave, which is just seen as more normal and socially acceptable, but it shouldn’t be that way.”

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