Shared Parental Leave: parents need more information

Today Shared Parental Leave comes into force where couples will be able to share 12 months of leave after the birth of their child. The aim is to help women return to the workplace and allow men to have more involvement in caring for new babies.

However, new research by My Family Care and Workingmums.co.uk has revealed that parents are still very confused about what the changes mean and that most employers feel training managers to answer questions on SPL will be the key challenge.

In a joint benchmarking study, My Family Care and Workingmums.co.uk collated and compared the maternity, paternity and shared parental leave benefits of 200 companies and organisations in the UK. Completed by HRDs from a whole spectrum of industries, ranging from legal to banking and finance, higher education and retail, the study has revealed that while most (80%) enhance maternity pay, 45% plan to offer enhanced shared parental leave. Similarly, the majority say they are not going to change their maternity or paternity pay rules with the launch of SPL – with 44% of companies coming to this decision based on the knowledge of their staff, without asking for their employees’ thoughts or feedback.

Ben Black, Director of My Family Care, says: “Some companies see this as an opportunity to enhance Shared Parental Leave and put themselves ahead of their competitors when it comes to benefits. However, many companies are still unsure about what to do and are opting to wait and see what interest they have from their staff. It is also fascinating that so many companies take the ‘carrot and stick approach’ where many impose restrictions in terms of length of service in order to access benefits and have a minimum time back in the workplace or offer bonuses or include provision for childcare costs on return to work.

“This legislation is one of the most ground-breaking legislations to affect working families in recent times and only time will tell how popular it proves to be amongst employers and employees alike. Of all the HRDs we asked, 43% said they have received questions from their employees around SPL showing there is a real appetite to find out more.”

In an analysis of the different sectors, higher education and the public sector are found to be the ‘most generous’. The more traditionally male orientated sectors, especially industrial and manufacturing enhance maternity leave to a lesser extent while service based industries such as legal and banking, which have also been historically seen as less than female friendly, enhance their maternity leave to retain the female talent they’ve invested heavily in. There was a direct correlation between those enhancing SPL with those already committed to maternity and paternity benefit enhancement, namely higher education, public sector, banking and finance, legal, charity and technology and telecoms.

One of the main challenges that companies say they face with the introduction of SPL this month is educating managers and keeping them engaged in supporting their working parents. This was closely followed by the issue of communicating the complexity of the legislation to employees.

Parents

A parallel survey of over 1,000 working parents found one in four (25%) said they were unaware of the changes while nearly a third (32%) said they don’t understand the changes at all and 31% said they had plenty of questions. 72% said they specifically didn’t understand SPLIT days.

Gillian Nissim from Workingmums.co.uk, one of the companies who undertook the research says: “What comes through from the survey data clearly is that parents are not aware of how SPL works, particularly on the detail like SPLIT days which allow mums and dads to keep in touch with work by working up to 20 days during their leave with their employers’ agreement. It is also interesting that they prefer a single block of leave to shorter periods. This may be because they think this would be less disruptive for all involved or because they find it difficult to understand how shorter blocks might work. It is clear that parents will need some guidance to help them negotiate this new legislation and how it might affect their family so they can make a decision that works for them. The aim of SPL is to open up choice for parents, but it must be an informed choice.”

When it comes to uptake, the research found that 41% of couples would not even consider it although 80% said they would change their decision if their company provided enhanced SPL. Almost half (43%) think that it could impact their partner’s career progress – and therefore family finances – while 35% of mums said that taking SPL would be positive for their career.

Ben Black says: “These results show that there is still a long way to go when it comes to educating people about Shared Parental Leave. However, I believe that as time goes by and becomes a part of everyday working culture, the uptake will increase and employees will welcome the chance to spend more time with their new baby or share their maternity leave with their partner. This is ground-breaking legislation and only time will tell how it is welcomed by employers and employees alike.”

Other findings from the survey of parents are:

– Around 25% of employers offer enhanced maternity pay

– 35% would consider SPL, but 25% are not aware of it

– Finance is the main reason for mums to consider SPL, above bonding for their partner and their own career progression
– 47% would ask for information on SPL from HR, 45% from websites and only 7% from their line manager
– Only 23% say their employer is providing information about SPL. A large number – 49% – are not sure.
– 18% think there will be a big interest in SPL, but 25% think people will be put off for financial reasons.

*For full details of the survey click here. To help businesses and consumers understand what SPL means for them, click here.

Picture credit: Vlado and www.freedigitalpghotos.net





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