Shared parental leave: what every manager must know

21 April 2015

By Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Early April saw the introduction of shared parental leave, heralding a fundamental change in modern working culture. Mothers can now split their maternity leave with their husbands or partners, allowing them to return to work sooner as their other halves take up childcare duties.

This new option is likely to be popular with UK workers, so employers must now prepare for the management challenges. Recent research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that four in five (83%) of those planning on having children in the future would consider taking shared parental leave when they become parents.

Greater workplace diversity

The benefits of shared parental leave should be enjoyed by employee and employer alike.

Even today, many women work in organisations with less inclusive management cultures and face the unspoken assumption that if they become a mother they will automatically become the main carer and therefore less committed to their careers.  By challenging this assumption by offering the opportunity to balance caring responsibilities across both sexes, this policy change will make that a thing of the past. Certainly, the evidence suggests that many men are keen to take advantage of their new rights.

These new arrangements will also lead to a generation of women returning to work sooner after giving birth, reducing the sense of disconnection that can result from being away from the workplace for up to a year.  The move offers far more women the opportunities to stay connected to their careers, and should help to strengthen the talent pipeline and ultimately help women break through glass ceilings.

The CMI has long campaigned for such changes, so we welcome this practical intervention. Shared parental leave will increase workplace diversity, provide greater flexibility in the workforce and address the problem of too few women taking senior roles. A better-balanced workforce at all levels means better decision-making and increased employee engagement.

Managing the change

Shared parental leave is optional for parents, but it is a statutory duty for employers to respond to any requests. Employers, however, will not lose out financially. The allowance of 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay has not gone up – rather, it’s just shared between both parents. The shift that employers will need to adapt to and manage is that any employee in a relationship expecting baby may choose to take parental leave.

Employees are required to provide employers with eight weeks’ notice if they wish to take shared parental leave. And unlike outdated maternity leave arrangements, employees don’t have to take all of their shared parental leave at the same time. They’re entitled to take it in up to three blocks (each block must be a minimum of a week) and return to work in between. Employers or managers can agree to more if they wish. Creating an organisation with a flexible and open culture on these issues will encourage parents-to-be to make arrangements sooner, enabling employers to plan resourcing and cover further in advance.

CMI’s five practical shared parental leave planning tips for managers:

  1. Make sure all line managers know the new rules – Many will have read about the changes in the media, but don’t just assume this is the case. Make sure the HR lead or team updates all line managers with the relevant legislation (www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay-employer-guide/overview) and bespoke procedures for your company. Like with any employment legislation, it’s important to know the facts.
  2. Encourage an open culture to discuss the topic more widely – Although now a legal requirement, employers and managers need to make sure their organisation is open about these issues. All employees, similar to when women are pregnant, should be able to discuss their leave plans openly with colleagues and managers, without fear of discrimination, intentional or not, in the workplace.
  3. Make shared parental leave the norm – It should become a regular part of our working worlds, like annual leave or pay reviews, and those considering or taking shared parental leave should not feel nervous to broach the topic with their boss. Senior managers taking this option should become ‘champions’ to lead change in their organisation.
  4. Support employees in their planning for shared parental leave – As with traditional maternity leave, managers and the HR team should support employees with bringing their plans to life. This means everything from planning for their leave and their workload across this period, then their return to work and progression following this period.
  5. Resource your teams accordingly to cover – There will be implications for resourcing and the cover of roles, which may be spread across months or weeks, depending on how the leave is taken. Depending on the size of your organisation, this will have different ramifications. This will be the trickiest area to plan for and managers will need to explore if cover is brought in or jobs are spread across existing team members.

More advice and guidance for line managers can be found by visiting: www.managers.org.uk/insights/news/2015/february/shared-parental-leave-and-your-staff-what-you-need-to-know

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