The Big Question: What effect could shared parental leave have on benefits?

Dr Caroline Gatrell, senior lecturer, management learning and leadership, Lancaster University Management School:

Employers still tend to organise working practices around the idea of dads as full-time income earners, with limited responsibility for childcare, but this just does not reflect the reality for many of today’s families. Once mums and dads are entitled to share parental leave, employers will have to acknowledge the social changes taking place. Of course, there will be many employees, both men and women, on low incomes who cannot afford to take unpaid parental leave, so this will – arguably unfairly – affect only relatively well-paid staff at present.

Our research with the Working Families charity shows that, especially after the birth of their first child, dads feel very stressed. With more shared responsibilities, they need the additional time that is being suggested. New dads said they would really appreciate support and flexibility from employers.

Employers can also benefit. The research showed there are many dads who want to spend more time with their children because of their desire to be more involved with their lives. Employed dads with a good work-life balance who feel in control of their lives are likely to be healthier and less stressed, which means reduced levels of sickness absence.

Employers need to be responsive to social change and there are many imaginative and creative solutions. It is important for employers to realise that today, mums and dads want to be part of their children’s everyday lives and that both parents are likely to be in paid work. Employers need effective policies in place to help parents achieve a manageable work-life balance. Extending paternity leave is a good start to enhancing benefits across the board.


Sarah Jackson, chief executive, Working Families:

Is the government’s announcement of improved time off for fathers good news? I think it is: employers, parents and children can all benefit. We know the discrepancy between the entitlements men and women get in relation to leave for childcare is out of line with what many families want. Fathers want to be able to take more time off to be with their new children, but are dissuaded by a combination of poor statutory entitlements and a culture where time off for family is mistakenly seen as a lack of commitment. This proposal chips away at the idea that men are not going to be out of the workplace for significant periods of time for childcare reasons.

The idea of transferability of leave does have weaknesses, which is why we would support a standalone right for fathers, rather than one that is reliant on mothers giving up their leave. But I think employers can gain from this proposal, too.

The benefits of allowing fathers to fulfil their family responsibilities how they want to (and it is worth remembering many families will not want to take up this new entitlement) will allow men to get the balance right between work and home. And this will translate into better performance and effort, boosting the employer’s bottom line.

In the wider sense, it is good for corporate social responsibility. This is an investment in family life, identified as key to sustaining and developing community life, too.


Ian Hodson, reward and benefits manager, University Of Lincoln:

2011 promises to be an interesting year in terms of the impact of family-friendly legislation, with the widening of the right to request flexible working, along with employees having the right to take additional paternity leave.

At the University of Lincoln, we take pride in being an employer ensuring that employees maintain a balanced interaction between work and home life, and we are looking to encompass the changes into our policies and practices.

I believe it is in the best interest of employer and employee to ensure our approach to all types of leave is flexible to ensure we are able to support the workforce with the best solutions for their varied circumstances. Ultimately, it is the motivation of employees that ensures they are able to perform their role to the highest standard and we understand the employer needs to sustain this motivation by supporting staff in the workplace and also at home.

I have some reservations about how the interaction with pay will unfold and the challenges employers may face when reviewing policies in ensuring an equitable approach between maternity and paternity. We are working through these at the moment.

I understand the concern of employers that say the changes will make it impossible for the workforce to be managed, but it is important to remember the eight-week notice period built into the regulations. This puts the emphasis on ensuring adequate workforce, succession and development planning is being carried out.

We will be embracing the legislation changes, looking at the opportunities it can offer for both employees and the university as an employer and ensuring the changes are incorporated into our reward strategy.

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