Prepare for surge in shared parental leave requests, law firm urges

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Almost two-fifths of employees who plan to have children in the future expect to take shared parental leave – a significant increase on the 7% who say they have taken it so far, a survey has found.

Law firm Winckworth Sherwood suggested that organisations should be preparing for more staff taking shared parental leave, as attitudes towards caring responsibilities begin to shift and more employers decide to enhance pay for parents taking the entitlement.

A YouGov survey of 1,000 employees and 500 senior HR decision-makers found employers had began to see an increase SPL requests, despite government figures suggesting that initial take-up had been low (4% of eligible families, according to the government’s Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families consultation).

Louise Lawrence, a partner at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “The statutory scheme for shared parental leave is complex, and it’s relatively low paid, but nevertheless a major shift could be upon us.

“As societal norms change and fathers feel more able to request time off, families may decide they want to share responsibilities more equally. Pay is clearly important and if employers decide to match their enhanced maternity pay, we expect to see more take up of shared parental leave. Increasingly, both parents may seek extended time away from work and employers should plan for this eventuality.”

HR decision-makers told researchers for its ‘Shifting attitudes to flexible working and childcare for working parents’ report that they had seen an increase in requests for SPL and working hours being adapted to accommodate two working parents.

One HR manager at a consultancy business said 20% of new mothers had taken SPL over the past two-and-a-half years.

Dr Jana Javornik, an associate professor of work and employment relations at Leeds Business School, said uptake will depend on whether workers see taking SPL as “available and acceptable” at their organisation.

She said: “With the increasing number of role models and media attention it is likely that more and more couples will share leave but only as long as the financial component allows equality and employers support an uptake. Otherwise, fathers will continue to hide behind paid annual and sick leave instead. Employers will, however, need to make sure that, instead, they do not reduce extra-statutory rights for mothers, especially maternity pay, which we’ve seen happening.”

The report also looks at how organisations were accommodating flexible working requests. Most HR decision-makers (72%) felt that offering flexible working was important for recruitment and retention, while 69% of employees said it was important when considering a new role.

Despite employers recognising how important flexible working is to employees, 78% of HR professionals found there were barriers to offering it in their organisation. Their biggest concern was the impact it would have on employees’ ability to carry out their job effectively (cited by 39%).

It also exposes a disconnect in employers’ and employees’ attitudes towards flexible working. One in 10 (12%) of employees admitted they would lack motivation or be too distracted to work from home, but nearly double the proportion of HR decision makers (23%) were concerned about whether employees can be trusted to work from home effectively.

Lawrence said: “Issues around trust by managers can be reduced by recruiting the right talent, focusing on outcomes rather than time spent, engaging with managers to get them on board with flexible working practices, and ensuring that there is a regular two-way dialogue between managers and employees.”

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