Opinion

Removing perceived barriers to increase the uptake of shared parental leave

The new shared parental leave legislation has been in place for six months now. But a report from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) shows that while managers are generally supportive of all forms of parental leave, employees are not so confident of their managers’ support.

This new legislation was put in place to help drive gender equality in the workplace, eliminate discrimination around maternity leave and to build employee engagement. So what can employers do to remove any perceived barriers, and to increase the uptake of what is anticipated to be a critical opportunity to enable more women to proceed into senior roles?

1. Demonstrate a clear policy

Make sure your organisation has updated all of its plans and policies to ensure it covers all forms of parental leave. Then make sure this information is clearly shared with all employees through staff handbooks, contracts and any other appropriate internal communication channels. This way your staff will see that you have already considered everything carefully and are prepared to welcome requests to take shared leave.

2. Start planning immediately

Remember each employee must give at least an eight week notice period of their intention to take leave. As soon as someone approaches you, take the opportunity to start planning appropriate cover immediately. This will not only help ensure that you can manage a smooth transition, but also reassure everyone else in the team that any additional work won’t land on them without any planning or forewarning.

3. Decide if the leave can be covered internally

One of the first steps is to establish if appropriate cover can be sourced internally. This could either be done by redistributing the work between the team, or by identifying if there is a suitable employee who can step up into the role or be seconded from another department. If someone does take on the role temporarily, ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the expectations and timescales involved, and of any additional rewards or career progression opportunities which will be available as a result.  

4. Decide how to recruit externally

The ILM report shows that currently only a quarter of employers go outside the organisation and use an external appointee to fill the role. However, this option was far more common among small businesses, of which there are many in our region. If you do decide to recruit externally, consider using the support of a recruitment agency, recruitment companies are experts in sourcing flexible, skilled and immediately available candidates. This will provide additional expertise in identifying someone with the skills and experience needed to hit the ground running in a temporary role. It will also help to provide guidance on ensuring all the appropriate regulations for appointing someone on a fixed term contract are complied with.  

5. Provide ongoing support

Once the appropriate cover is in place, make sure you continue to provide ongoing support. Check in regularly with those who have taken over any work, and also any team members who may be affected by the change. Remember to ensure that you’ve factored in time for appropriate handovers at the end of the leave, as well as the beginning, to support the employee when they return to work.