Shared parental leave had not really hit my radar (after 4 kids, I’m definitely not planning on adding to the brood again!) but when Mumsnet asked people to blog about it, I thought I should probably do a bit of research with my ’employer’ hat on if nothing else!
Mumsnet were asked by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to find out what Mumsnet Bloggers think about this new policy for parents.
The team there say “From April 2015, parents will have greater choice over how they share time off work to care for their child. Shared Parental Leave allows working couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in a way that suits their work and family needs. For example, parents can take time off together or they can tag team, stopping and starting leave and returning to work in between if they wish. You can check your eligibility and how much pay you can get here. ”
Now when I had my oldest 2 children I worked in the finance department of a multinational PLC. I loved my job – and ‘back in those days’ maternity leave tended to be 6 months. I kept my hand in with the odd conference call / visit during my maternity leave (in fact the only time ever I was successful with a breast pump was in the office after I popped out of a meeting as my boobs were about to explode! Obviously nothing was sterilised and I was tipping the milk away – and so that’s why I got loads!!) and went back after 6 months each time – and was totally ready for it!
By the time I had children 3 and 4, I worked in our family business which made things very different! I was answering emails whilst in labour and working very soon afterwards (obviously it was 2 weeks if HMRC are reading this………) Other friends were having a full year off – but my life was one big juggle – so I didn’t get to do the whole ‘maternity leave’ thing at all. The babies often came into the office with me (we had a travel cot set up!) and attended meetings with the bank manager, quality auditor and vat man.
My husband has always worked for the family business – and so has been really flexible – which is great when you phone him in tears with a screaming baby in the middle of the day and he can pop home, but not so great when he has to go and sign some contracts in the lobby of the hospital when you’re giving birth! He is a massively hands on Dad – but has said himself that he would find it really hard to be at home all the time taking on full childcare responsibilities. I think a lot of that is the multi-tasking thing! It’s totally gender stereotypical – but I am often doing 27 things at once, not to mention all the things I just know and are in my head – but he has to do things one at a time, and if it’s not written on the list for him to do, then it can be missed. I have been known to write ‘change nappy even if it’s just wee not poo’ and ‘give them a drink during the day not just at mealtimes’ on the crib sheets when I was going out somewhere!!
Before I had kids, I used to see people ‘swanning about on maternity leave’ and think what an easy life they had – until it was me with the baby 24/7 and I realised that going to work would be the easy option. The husband totally sees that too (he used to ‘have a meeting’ and go and have a kip in his car!!)
Who knows, if our circumstances had been different – then maybe shared parental leave would have been utilised – and I guess that is what it comes down to, giving both parents choices to suit their own situations.
Now, as an employer this could affect me much more. We run a construction company – and whilst I’m proud to say we have a couple of female painters in additional to the female office staff – it is still a very male dominated environment. All of the guys who’ve had babies have taken their 2 weeks paternity leave – which I am pleased to see – but I am not sure how many would opt for the shared parental leave. In most cases they are the higher wage earner, and they just couldn’t afford to take the pay cut and still support their families. I also suspect, albeit wrongly, they’d be in for some stick from their workmates on site if they were going to be ‘stay at home Dads’.
I now feel like I know what we need to offer to all of our staff, male and female alike – and I have to say that in a small business like ours, the operational difficulties of losing members of staff for chunks of time could be problematic – but obviously we would work around that.
Although I’m not sure we can allow all of the staff to bring all of their kids into the office like we do sometimes………