Recent data suggests that only 3-8% of eligible couples take shared parental leave. Alan Price explores why.
When only one in four eligible fathers use their statutory leave, it seems there’s a real problem with fathers taking time off to be with their new baby at all – let alone for an extended period.
This means many fathers don’t have enough time to properly bond with their baby, leaving them feeling like a ‘secondary’ figure in the child’s life.
So what could be holding new fathers back from taking more time with their new-born – and what can employers do to help?
Many modern dads still grapple with the fear of external judgement or internal shame.
In generations gone by, men openly talked of a sense of pride in being the sole earner for the family. Nowadays, though, many families would be hard-pressed to rely on one income.
Having only one ‘breadwinner’ is now financially unattainable for many of us. But while societal circumstances have moved on, our mindset is slower to catch up. The gendered roles of ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’ are deeply baked into our collective psyche.
And unlike women, men aren’t surrounded by other male peers on parental leave. The lack of other males sharing parental leave means men may feel ‘unusual’ for taking that step – and worry about feeling isolated or judged if they do.
This stigma often continues in the workplace itself. In fact, according to Pregnant Then Screwed, one in seven dads who took shared parental leave said they faced workplace discrimination.
It’s no surprise, then, that men might worry about going against the ‘norm’ for not heading back to work soon after their baby arrives.
Confusion around shared parental leave is rife in UK workplaces.
According to the Pregnant Then Screwed survey, just half of dads believe their employer understands how shared parental leave works. This level of knowledge will significantly reduce in businesses without a dedicated HR function.
Often, smaller businesses don’t have the means to dive into complex employment law rules. And much of the online guidance around shared parental leave is unnecessarily complex.
For a start, there are different rules to follow compared to other forms of parental leave, like maternity leave. Employers should refer to different criteria to check whether their staff qualify for shared leave.
Beyond entitlement, employers also need to get to grips with how staff actually use the leave. Because unlike maternity leave, parents don’t need to take the time off in one big block – parents can stagger their leave, take it separately, or take the leave at the same time as their partner.
The unfamiliarity around this process means that many employers feel reluctant to deal with it.
As a result, they’re less likely to highlight entitlement or encourage their staff to use it. Without an HR manager actively learning and sharing that knowledge, the lack of awareness then trickles down to working dads.
Statistically, male workers still earn more than their female counterparts.
And while we are slowly heading in a positive direction, the point still stands – a mother is less likely to earn as much as her partner.
This often means that, any decision around which parent takes parental leave, becomes a financial one. When a parent receives statutory parental pay, they will take a reduced wage (unless their employer decides to top up their pay). And if parents share the maximum 50 weeks available to them, they won’t receive any statutory pay for the last 13 weeks.
So, in most cases, the bigger the wage, the bigger the financial hit.
And when you consider the cost of childcare – which can soak up over half a parent’s wages in the UK – it’s no surprise that parents will want to reduce any financial hit. So if the father is the bigger earner, it often makes sense to keep 100% of that wage.
A lack of awareness, financial concerns, and lingering stigma all mean that only a minority of men share parental leave. And given how deep-rooted these issues are, this statistic isn’t likely to shoot up any time soon.
However, while the wider issue will likely remain for some time, employers can still take proactive steps to boost take-up within their workforce.
First, it’s vital that employers do their research around shared parental leave. Attending webinars or signing up to e-learning sessions is an effective way to fill any knowledge gaps.
Once the employer is confident in the rules, they should make sure all staff are aware of their entitlement. They should ideally cement any relevant guidance with a robust workplace policy, and document this within an employee handbook.
To incentivise staff, employers should also highlight the benefits of sharing parental leave. And to remove any fear of judgement, it’s worth reinforcing a zero-tolerance stance on discrimination around this topic.
Where possible, it’s also good to offer enhanced parental pay – above the statutory rate. This may reduce any financial concerns around taking time off with their baby. Again, it’s best practise to outline any specific perks in an employee handbook.
And in businesses where there’s clear communication, respect, and trust, employees will feel more empowered to use the benefits they’re entitled to.