Shared Parental Leave: the employer's perspective

How are employers thinking about SPL? What are the challenges still remaining and how are they preparing for the future? Centrica's Alison Hughes talks to about the view from a male-dominated sector.

Shared Parental Leave is coming in next April, but even though Acas published guidance for employers earlier this month which makes it easier for employers to visualise, many still have unanswered questions. Working Families have pointed out confusion among employers about whether the mother can be on maternity leave while the father is on SPL [they can].

Then there is the nitty gritty of questions such as what happens if an employee goes on sick leave following SPL,  how will employers know who is eligible and what will the paperwork involve. However, the biggest challenge for many is how it will impact on operations and predicting how great the take-up might be.

Many organisations now have good women’s networks and are able to tap into them to find out what women think of various initiatives, including those relating to being a working parents. The same is only just beginning to happen with dads and only in a handful of organisations.

That leaves businesses with a dearth of information, even if they support the aims of Shared Parental Leave. Many, for instance, see it as linked intrinsically to their diversity and gender-related work and understand how greater equality at home can create greater equality in the workplace.

Gender diversity

Centrica is one of those employers. It has done a lot of work over the last two years on gender diversity and is keen to find out how SPL will affect its workforce. The biggest implications will be for the British Gas part of its business which is heavily male-dominated. Centrica has done some work in advance of SPL coming in to understand how many men took paternity leave last year.  It knows that it has between 700 and 800 new dads in the business every year. Alison Hughes, Group Head of HR Policy & Diversity at Centrica, says the main spur has been to understand what kind of operational impact SPL will have. “Some businesses are taking a wait and see approach, but we will be actively doing things over the next year to ascertain the potential impact of SPL,” says Alison.

This includes setting up a dads’ network led by enthusiastic dads within the company. Alison says it is vital that employee networks are led by employees. “If they are centre-led they will not survive,” she says. The network will provide dads with a place to meet and discuss issues that are relevant to them, but will also give Centrica a better idea of what dads want.

Centrica also hopes to do more structured surveys of dads next year and is using Yammer to raise awareness and start conversations. It also plans to promote positive role models of people taking SPL. It is rolling out advice and support for working families through My Family Care, including possibly a dads’ programme.


Hughes agrees that a big issue for employers is whether to enhance paternity pay in the same way that many already enhance maternity pay. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Civil Service would ensure equal pay on SPL to set an example for others. Centrica’s approach is that it wants to stand by its statements on gender and diversity and to encourage dads to take leave, but it needs first to assess the potential business impact. “We want people to be treated the same and fairly,” says Hughes. “We aspire to offer fully enhanced pay to dads, we need first to fully understand the impact on the business so we are using a phased approach rather than enhancing pay from day one.” A major reason for this is because Centrica has such a male-dominated workforce.

Hughes says that if managers are confused about how SPL will play out, employees are probably more so. Centrica is beginning to get queries from staff, but Hughes says it will be difficult for many to get their heads around how SPL works and whether it is right for them. “It’s when you get down to the detail that it becomes complex so employers have a  duty to make it clear how it works,” she says. “It’s a very personal decision. It depends on finances, people’s career situation and cultural norms. Some mums may be reluctant to give up their maternity leave.”

She adds that she does not anticipate a big uptake in the first year: “It’s a really exciting piece of legislation and shows we are heading in the right direction, but I think it will be a slow burner.”

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