As you’ll know we’re big proponents of fair policies for taking time off.

When a child is born, it’s crucially important that the parents are given time to bond with their new one. But policies throughout the working world are inconsistent, and some companies don’t even have them. Government minimums don’t always reflect the true need for proper time off, either.

For small companies - especially younger startups that might not have any parents yet - it might be tempting to ignore this sort of thing and deal with it when the time comes. That’s a bad idea, for a number of reasons.

Setting a fair parental leave policy is better for the child, the parents, and the company. Here’s our thoughts on why.

An uneven leave landscape

Shared parental leave was a progressive idea when the UK government introduced it in 2015, allowing parents to separate their leave allowance into blocks and share them between each other. The thinking was this increased flexibility would make it easier for at least one parent to spend time with the child for a decent period after its birth.

But actual participation in the scheme is surprisingly low - possibly as low as 2%. According to this BBC report, around half of the general public are unaware the policy even exists, which isn’t great (although there were plans to ramp up awareness campaigns to combat this). On average, the government pays out 26 times more to mothers than fathers, in the first year after birth. This means there’s way more Statutory Maternity Leave being taken than Paternity Leave.

So does this problem need to be tackled by the working policies themselves?

Balancing the scales

Even though there’s a way to go before we see full parental leave equality, there’s clearly demand to make things more balanced.

When insurance company Aviva started offering dads the same generous parental leave as mums, the results were encouraging. Under their policy, all UK employees can take 12 months of leave when their child is born, including 26 weeks of full basic pay.

The response showed that dads really did want to spend more time with their newborns. Nearly half of their staff who took parental leave in the first year were men. The benefits were clear - dads returned with unexpected insights on how women feel when they take maternity leave:

"Many have said they view things with a fresh perspective. They can see what women have experienced for generations: worries about perceived commitment to work, about balancing a family with a career and anxieties about returning to work. As a result, they are more thoughtful about others’ situations."

The drinks group Diageo also announced recently they were implementing fully paid 26-week parental leave for both parents. Available to all 4,500 UK employees of the company, this policy is a big step to legitimising equal leave policies. It’s available whether employees are becoming parents biologically, or through surrogacy or adoption.

Diageo’s Chief HR Officer Mairéad Nayager sees it as a leading move in bringing gender equality to the workplace:

“True gender equality in the working world requires fundamental changes to a broad range of working practices, including a shake-up of the policies and cultural norms around parental leave. This announcement is about matching ambition with action and supporting all of our colleagues – regardless of gender - to experience the joy of raising a young family, while continuing to thrive at work.”

Don't have a policy? Make your own

This report from Makers Academy details how parental leave policies within the organisation can be made by the employees themselves.

It highlights the problems that small companies face, particularly balancing the needs of workers vs. the company, and how to prioritise those. The management eventually decided on offering two options, though - the first a sort of 'template' approach where employees can utilise standard leave amounts with no hassle, and the second being a customised policy plan that the employee decides themselves, based on what they think they need.

In the words of Dan Le Dosquet-Bergquist of Makers Academy,

"Every family is different, and we wouldn’t want to try and predict every possible future for our employees. This option allows the employee to be the main decision maker in something so personal."

Sounds like a pretty sensible approach. Their article is well-researched and definitely worth a read.

It seems that in almost all cases, balanced parental leave leads to happier families, which is better in the long-term for both workers and companies. At heart it’s a benefit, attracting and retaining staff who don’t want starting a family to be dependent on their employer’s whims.

According to the 2018 report on equality between women and men in the EU, evidence shows that when new dads take parental leave, mums end up going back to work more easily, female employment is higher overall, and the gender pay gap is lower. We reckon it’s not just good business sense, but it’s the right thing to do.

It’s summed up by Aviva’s Interim Chief People Officer Caroline Prendergast, speaking about their equal-leave trial:

“The feedback from our returning parents has been fantastic. If we are going to create a diverse, inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive, we must avoid viewing people as just one thing — a woman, a carer, an older worker — and instead see the value they can add. By better understanding one another as employees, we can better understand our customers, so there are benefits all round. We want to create an environment where everyone is recognised solely for their talent.”

Food for thought for any business considering their leave policies.

Photo by Alyssa Stevenson on Unsplash