Ross Blair is very clear about the benefits of dads having longer paternity leave and sharing time off when their babies are small.
He took three months off with his son and says the experience is something he would thoroughly recommend.
Ross took additional paternity leave [APL] when his first child was born in 2014. His wife took the first six months after the birth off and Ross, a bank manager for Bank of Scotland, took three months after that. He had heard about APL on his National Childbirth Trust course. He then checked the bank’s policy and spoke to his line manager. He said of course he should take it if he wanted to. His wife, a self-employed dentist, was only able to take a few months off and was apprehensive about putting the baby into nursery when he was so young.
Ross loved APL. “I didn’t want to come back to work,” he says. Initially his friends said they wouldn’t have been able to do it, but when he told them about his experience they thought it was a great idea and said they wished they had done it.
Ross, who lives in Edinburgh and manages a cluster of banks in the Leith area, says he was lucky that his wife had already got the baby into sleeping and feeding routines by the time he took over. “It was a great experience with my little boy. I really got to know his little habits and quirks through spending three months living by his routines,” he says.
He jokes that his wife was quite jealous. “At five months he was becoming interesting. My wife had been through the tough part and I was there for the fun stuff,” he says.
That included going swimming, to the local library for story telling sessions and other community projects.
He was usually the only dad there. “There were more grandparents than dads,” he says. However, he didn’t feel excluded at all. “It was a great icebreaker. I think people spoke to me more because I was the only dad. They wanted to know why I had chosen to take additional paternity leave and how I was getting on,” says Ross.
Back to work
He didn’t find adjusting back to working life difficult and says the fact that he transferred to a different office after leave helped. “I was in a new office with different staff to manage so it was a new challenge and it made it easier,” he says. He adds, however, that managing the public is a lot less predictable than a baby with set routines.
Nevertheless, he missed his son. “I went from seeing him all day to half an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I missed him completely, but I try to make up for it at weekends and appreciate the time I have more,” he says.
During his time off he was also able to settle his son at nursery, which gave him peace of mind. For his second son, born just over a week ago, Ross is not sure if he will take Shared Parental Leave [SPL] as his wife is keen to spend more time with the baby and to breastfeed for longer.
This time round the family have been able to plan more so that she can do this because they have a better idea of the costs of having a baby. Ross has saved holiday, in any event, so that he can take time later to be with the new baby.
He says the Bank of Scotland has been very supportive throughout. “I’ve had nothing but support,” he says, “and no negativity from anyone. In fact it worked out well for the bank as it allowed my boss to move branch managers around which the business has benefited from.”
The bank, which has won a number of awards for its family-friendly approach, offers two weeks’ paternity leave on full pay and Shared Parental Leave at enhanced pay rates. A specialist support team helps any employee taking leave transition back to work smoothly and there are e-learning modules covering each stage of the leave process, including one for dads and partners sharing tips from other dads working at the bank and parenting experts. There is also a parents’ network, which connects parents via online forums and regular events, including some specifically aimed at dads, and the bank’s Flexible Benefits scheme includes the option to buy additional holiday and childcare vouchers.
Ross says, in addition to his very positive parental leave experience, the bank was very supportive when his oldest son, now two and a half, was diagnosed with a heart condition and had to go to lots of hospital appointments. Ross also accompanied him when he had to go into hospital for a couple of days and his wife couldn’t go due to work commitments. His son is now on medication for his condition. “It was horrific at the time,” says Ross. “We had to rush him to Accident and Emergency, but my team includes a lot of parents and everyone is very understanding.”
Ross says he has some flexibility in his job despite it being customer-facing – indeed over a third of people work in an agile way. Due to Saturday and late openings there is flexibility for staff so they don’t have to work set hours and they can come in later and leave later or come in earlier and leave earlier too. “Things have changed a lot in the last few years. No-one in the branches I run does absolute fixed hours and some do reduced hours. There’s a lot of give and take,” he says. “As long as there are people around at the right times it means staff have more of a work life balance.”
Despite the fact that, for logistics reasons it might not make as much sense for him to take SPL this time round, Ross is very keen to recommend it to those who can and hopes greater awareness about it will lead more dads to take it. “For me the experience was nothing but positive,” he says. “I would recommend it to anyone.”