Julie McCarthy: Working parents need long-term benefits


The Working Families shared parental leave (SPL) pioneers list highlights those employers offering above and beyond the minimum legal requirements for SPL. Not only are these employers offering enhanced SPL benefits, but the majority also support their expectant parents throughout the pregnancy or adoption process. They, along with many other organisations, have recognised just how important this is and the long-term benefits it can bring. 

Fathers have the legal right to unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments with their expectant partner. However, some organisations allow fathers paid time off or give them the opportunity to work flexibly so they can attend all appointments. With young fathers demonstrating an ever more involved role in their children’s early years, this can be an important motivator and engagement mechanism. 

Parenting networks offer expectant and new parents mentoring and support during this exciting but also nerve wracking time. They are also a useful way for organisations to better understand the needs of their workforce. 

Good and early communication is vital for ensuring that the leave process is managed smoothly, and can help both line managers and the employee plan for absence.

If a new parent takes only a short period of leave, it can be easy for colleagues to forget that their lives have experienced a huge change.  Looking after a baby is exhausting – both parents are likely to be sleep-deprived, and this can take a huge toll. Simple actions like avoiding booking early or late meetings and allowing flexible start and finish times can smooth the transition back to work.

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Many organisations have already recognised the importance of supporting expectant and new parents in the workplace and for two simple reasons: recruitment and retention, and gender diversity. It makes sound business sense to protect the investment made in recruiting and developing staff by focusing on retaining talent after they have taken time out for family reasons, and any improvement in retention is a significant factor in achieving better gender diversity, especially at the higher levels of an organisation.

Julie McCarthy is head of policy, research and communications at Working Families