Planning ahead for Shared Parental Leave

Tom Burns from global learning company Pearson talks about his experience of taking Shared Parental Leave and having three months in Barcelona with his family over the summer.


Tom Burns is just back from over three months of Shared Parental Leave [SPL], most of which he spent with his girlfriend and son in Barcelona and is keen to share his experience with others so they are aware of the benefits taking SPL can bring.

Tom has worked for global learning company Pearson since 2015 in the finance team and is now Finance Manager, UK Schools.

He admits he didn’t know much more than the basic concept of Shared Parental Leave before his girlfriend got pregnant, but said the couple approached what they would do when the baby was born by working back from when his girlfriend wanted to go back to work.

Planning ahead was a central theme.

The couple’s son was born in February and she wants to return to work in December. They decided that Tom should take around three months off in the summer so they could have time together as a family.

Tom and his manager also worked their schedule around the business’ needs.

Tom started his current role just after he took paternity leave. He took two weeks of paternity leave and two weeks of annual leave before returning to get stuck into his new role. Pearson also allows new dads to take a bonus two-week chunk of paternity leave six weeks after the first batch and so Tom took that and returned in time to complete a fairly hefty regular exercise for work. He then had the three months of Shared Parental Leave over the summer and has returned in time for another large routine finance exercise while his girlfriend has moved onto Shared Parental Leave.

The company covered his leave through extending a contractor role and internal rotation.

“I made them aware of my plans as early as I could,” says Tom. “Much of finance is about planning and budgeting so I was used to thinking ahead.”

Family time

Tom says Pearson’s HR department were very supportive and knew the ropes.  “It was great to have time off as a family,” says Tom. “One of the great things about Shared Parental Leave is that we had a big chunk of time to spend together. I can’t think of many examples where we would have been able to do that during our careers.”

The family made the most of the time, spending two months in Barcelona – “an opportunity we will never have again”, says Tom.

In Spain there were two parents on hand which was useful as their son was moving past the sleeping and eating phase and getting more lively. Now that he is back at work Tom realises just how much of a benefit it was. “It is hard if just one person is at home all day. It is pretty relentless,” he says.

In Spain, for instance, both had time off from parenting to pursue their own interests. His girlfriend, for instance, took time off to do Spanish classes.

Return to work

Tom didn’t find it too difficult returning to work. As he is in a relatively new job much of his focus is on long-term relationship building. He did one Keeping in Touch day before returning just to get up to speed so that he was not jumping in at the deep end and he started on a Thursday which made it easier as he didn’t have to face a full week immediately.

Things will change again soon when his girlfriend returns to work full time. Tom will then do the majority of the pick-ups from nursery so he will have to leave on time, although he can log on to work later if necessary.

Tom says he loved the experience of taking Shared Parental Leave and is keen to promote it as an option to other employees at Pearson. However, he emphasises that any decision to take it again – if he and his girlfriend have another baby – will be down to his girlfriend. “I would not feel comfortable justifying taking time off if she didn’t want me to,” he says, referring to the fact that not only did she carry the baby and give birth, but she had to deal with the demands of breastfeeding.

“I really enjoyed taking Shared Parental Leave. It gave me a different perspective on parenting and opened my eyes to how tough it is,” he says. “It also brought our family closer together. I feel closer to my son and was there for some important milestones which I would have missed. My relationship with my girlfriend is stronger – there is a mutual understanding which is part of going through an experience together. We have come out of it with a sense of mutual admiration.”

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