Following the birth of his first child, James Swaffield discusses why he took shared parental leave.
What is SPL?
Shared parental leave (SPL) came in as a right in April 2015. Since then, however, only 1% of those eligible for it have taken it up. In fact, four in ten companies have not had an employee take SPL ever1. Compare that to our Scandinavian neighbours and you can see the distance we are away from really putting in place a balanced system. Iceland, for example, has a mandated three months leave for each partner to ensure equity in employment outcomes. Why they and other countries are committed to it is quite simple – equity in the workplace. A Swedish government study showed that for each month the father takes leave, the mother’s future annual income increases by 7%2.
So then why is uptake so low? That’s something I thought about as I went back to work at the end of my SPL.
Becoming a latte papa
Talking to a Norwegian friend recently, when I told him what I was doing he said, ‘great, it’s good to be a latte papa’ – the colloquial term for a father during their paternity leave in the Nordics. And it is. You get to be the primary caregiver during a unique time – just about crawling not old enough to answer back. It’s equal parts rewarding and knackering, especially if sleep is viewed as an optional extra for the wee one.
Yet, take up had been extremely low. Why?
According to one recent survey, the biggest barrier is financial. At best you’re looking at a 90% reduction in what you get during the statutory phase on a weekly basis, as you’d expect. So, doing the maths before you sign up is a must. This planning and subsequent saving the six months before D-Day was the only way we managed to balance it.
Despite the reduced income, we decided to take SPL to allow me to spend time with my son during his first few months.
After making your decision, a necessary starting point of SPL is understanding the HR process. It took me a few drafts and back-and-forths to confirm everything with both Gate One and my partner’s employer.
You will also need to manage your SPLIT (Shared Parental Leave in Touch) days. You can have 20 in total. Planning when to log on to the system takes a bit of forethought.
From a more personal angle, taking SPL will have been a joint decision, and by its nature, a degree of compromise will have been agreed. As such, avoid seeing those taking SPL as having time off or a sabbatical. It’s parental leave and treated just like time on maternity leave.
Having started SPL, two of the things that struck me most was the immediate FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, back at base and the challenge of transitioning for my other half. Managing the FOMO can be done via SPLIT days – days that can be allocated and paid for back a base – if that’s what you want to do, or else just recognising that often it is inevitable that ‘everything and nothing will have changed’ by the time you come back anyway. For my other half, the transition back to work was still challenging, but the benefit of having me to manage a more gradual transition into nursery for our little one, and working out how the new daily rhythm would work across us all helped out significantly.
To latte or not to latte?
So, what are my final reflections?
Do I think my career was impacted? In the short term, yes. Did it improve our collective careers? In the long term, I think it has. Did the benefits outweigh the costs? Completely. Would I do it again if the opportunity arose? Yes. Did my latte intake go up? No, I kind of prefer tea.