Communicating better about shared parental leave

A new survey finds employers are not proactive enough in encouraging dads to think about shared parental leave.

man and woman's feet standing next to empty baby shoes


There are a lot of surveys these days. Many companies with a vested interest have latched onto the fact that surveys about work life balance and flexible working are a good way of promoting their product. Technology makes the whole polling process easier, but not necessarily representative.

However, sometimes these surveys can highlight important issues that are somewhat neglected in other research. Working dads is one such category. Before Shared Parental Leave [SPL] came in, there was very little in the way of research on what dads felt about any number of relevant issues. Even progressive companies with lots of data on working mums, for instance, were almost completely in the dark about who was a dad in their organisation, let alone what they wanted.

Some progress has been made on this score and there have been a number of surveys and academic studies around SPL. Still, there is not enough detailed research on dads’ attitudes to all manner of issues around work and parenting. So it was interesting to see a survey on employers’ attitudes to communicating paternal rights to their male employees this week.

The survey by conference call company Powwownow found around a quarter of employers admitted their firms took no action to inform employees about SPL while a further 40% only told workers about the policy if someone asked about it. Only a third of companies include information about SPL entitlement in employee welcome packs. Dads questioned suggested stigma around taking SPL was putting them off taking it.  Almost half said they didn’t feel comfortable broaching the topic with their manager and three quarters said they felt there was a stigma around taking time off to do childcare. Nevertheless, 82% said they weren’t happy with their work life balance. That’s a lot of unhappy workers. Employers should take note.

On the back of the gender pay audits, Lib Dems MP Jo Swinson has sponsored a Bill that will force larger employers to publish details of their parental leave policies so prospective employees can research them before they take a job. The legislation is likely to be passed soon.  This could go some of the way towards informing parents about their rights and encouraging employers to offer better parental leave packages. The problem, though, is creating a workplace where men feel they can actually take SPL or, indeed, ordinary paternity leave. That means addressing attitudes from managers and colleagues. Finance is obviously another big concern as are wider social attitudes, including those of families and those of mums and dads themselves.

Most employers are smaller though. While many can’t afford enhanced packages, communicating information about basic rights, given the plethora of communications methods there are today, does not cost much – even a link to the many sites with information about shared parental leave would be a start.

I’ve been interested to find how many dads I have spoken to who have taken SPL mention that older dads have been supportive of their decision and said they wished they had been able to take time out.  This seems to fly in the face of reports of some managers being obstructive, perhaps because they think they should be. It comes down to changing attitudes across the workplace.

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