Following the UK’s shared parental legislation, sharing the first year of life with the new born while still in work is no longer only possible for mothers. The new law provides partners the possibility of splitting responsibility while meeting the criteria for government maternity funding. Accenture has seen the benefits of moving fast and created a means for parents at all levels of the organisation to support their child, while leaving the door open for them to return to their career after the leave has ended.
Since 5 April 2015, the UK Government’s shared parental legislation came into effect. The legislation provides families with the possibility of splitting the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) between both parents. The legislation, among others, provides the possibility of sharing the responsibility of supporting a born or adopted child through their first year of life.
Popularity for the policy is growing according to a recent survey by My Family Care. The research shows that 43% of companies are enhancing their shared parental leave policies in line with maternity benefits, while 33% are considering such policies if it is found that they have a positive effect. Only a small 12% say that they are not planning to implement enhanced benefits in the foreseeable future.
Shared responsibility among the responsible
Although the policy has so far seen modest use, not every segment of the working world has sought to make use of the new opportunity. A majority of HR directors (60%) report that that they have had negligible shared parental leave requests. The biggest barrier, according to the survey, is a culture perception within businesses that discriminates against those that take an extended period off. 41% says that the risk to a person’s career outcome is the biggest obstacle.
Accenture UK & Ireland HR Director Sam Clark, remarks in an interview to HR Magazine that the cultural barrier is likely to change over the coming period as both businesses and society as a whole grasp the benefit that shared parent leave has for the well-being of families. “It will undoubtedly take time for the cultural change that SPL brings to be fully felt as attitudes about parental leave shift and awareness increases,” she says. “The return of early SPL adopters to work is likely to be a turning point as other employees hear about their positive experiences. If businesses communicate the real life benefits effectively more of their staff are likely to consider SPL as a viable option.”
To change the pervading culture within businesses, Clark says that HR directors need to develop and tailor polices based on input from the relevant stakeholders: existing parents, new parents or senior management. The new policy will then meet the expectation and requirements of parent and businesses alike, with the policy clearly disseminated to all relevant stakeholders. “New fathers and mothers expect an equal chance to be involved in the upbringing of their children, meaning an effective shared parental leave offering will be a powerful tool in the battle to attract and retain the best talent,” Clark concludes.
Accenture ahead of the game
The new policy has worked well for Accenture. Mark Smith, an 18 year veteran at Accenture and now a Managing Director, writes that the firm has been remarkably quick to implement the policy. The consulting firm now provides staff with up to 30 weeks (on full pay and benefits), plus two weeks’ standard paternity leave. The policy also allows staff to mix and match. Smith opted to take two weeks at the start, go back to work for five weeks, before spending the rest of the year with his new born son. The policy allows him to attend various work functions so that he ‘keeps in touch’ with what is happening to make the transition between parenting and work easier.
“[To] have the opportunity to be part of your child’s life in the early days – when they change so quickly – is amazing. I love being able to attend things like vaccination appointments, gym classes and the NCT group. I get to feed Louis and see him lift his head for the first time,” Smith reflects. On the future of the policy he remarks that, “I do think there’s a lot of respect out there for men who have taken that leap to spend time with their children. It’s a brave new world – and when I talk to other fathers they say they wish they could have spent that time with their child.”