Why are so few parents opting for shared parental leave?

parents with newborn babyKate Palmer looks at likely reasons for the poor take-up since the scheme was introduced. 

Since 2015, shared parental leave (SPL) has been an option for working couples, allowing eligible employees to share and organise family leave in a way that works best for them.

Despite this, take-up has been very low. In 2018, only 9,200 new parents took shared parental leave, just 1 per cent of those who were eligible to do so, and below the government estimate of 2 to 8 per cent. So, why is SPL seemingly so unpopular?

Lack of awareness and understanding

It is likely due to poor awareness of it, and the personal circumstances of the modern workforce. SPL rules are specific in regards to eligibility, notice requirements and patterns of leave that can be taken, meaning they may be viewed as difficult and disruptive to businesses.

Organisations may struggle to fully understand their obligations, preferring employees to use the more familiar options of maternity and paternity leave. This can ultimately lead to a negative culture surrounding the use of SPL in general, and may deter employees from considering it.

Personal circumstances

Employees may also not choose to take SPL due to their personal circumstances. For example, research conducted by Totaljobs outlined that 85 per cent of employees could not afford to take advantage of SPL. This is likely because working mothers are generally paid less than their male partners.

In addition, nearly half of the participants explained that their partners did not want to take the leave, with 58 per cent confirming that the mother preferred to take the role of the main carer in their family situation.

The time spent away from work can also deter some employees due to concerns over how it will affect their career prospects.

Why it's important to be open to SPL

Employers should remember that employees have a legal right not to be discriminated against on the basis of maternity or paternity leave, and should be fully made aware of the rights and entitlements available to them.

Working women taking prolonged career breaks to facilitate child care can lead to them missing out on key opportunities for career progression and, in turn, increase a company’s gender pay gap. SPL provides the option for them to take less time away from work, encouraging higher employee retention rates, increased engagement, and an improved reputation for the company within their industry.

In the modern workplace, it is increasingly apparent that employees are looking for roles with increased flexibility and strong family-friendly policies. By actively encouraging take-up of shared parental leave, companies can attract skilled individuals to their workforce who may otherwise have not shown interest.

A clear policy and a supportive environment

To counteract confusion surrounding SPL, organisations should take positive steps to introduce a workplace policy that outlines the rules on taking the leave, eligibility, and how to provide notice.

This will help employees and managers to understand the leave better, encouraging take-up and the correct handling of requests. Additionally, requests should also be handled proactively and positively; a discussion can be held with the employee about the request and how they will be supported during their leave.

About the author

Kate Palmer is associate director at Peninsula, a team of HR, employment law and health and safety experts.

See also

Shared parental leave and pay guidance tools for parents