When I had originally joined my company I was not married and had not paid much thought to the parental leave benefits it had to offer. In 2017, I had been at the company over five years and, together with my partner, we found ourselves recently married and expecting our first child.
Initially my wife had in-mind to take a year off work, and I had expected to take the mandatory two weeks. In the build-up to the due date we diligently researched and attended NCT sessions where we learned some the basics and heard stories from others. It was clear that two weeks is a short time! I had considered saving up holiday and asking for unpaid leave in order to use it all to have more time with baby and mother.
Although we both worked we relied on my salary to pay off the mortgage so unpaid leave wasn’t ideal even if I got permission for it. Fortunately I discovered the shared parental leave benefits my company had to offer, and I believe they were industry leading at the time. Due to my relatively long service I was eligible for the enhanced benefit which was up to 20 weeks shared parental leave (SPL) on full pay.
I contacted HR to sort out the admin. My company required eight weeks of notice to change anything so I had to make sure we had good conviction with our plans before final submission of our schedule. Only two other men had taken SPL at the company and this seldom trodden path revealed a convoluted, Heath-Robinson-esque admin form, for which I have since proposed simplifications. (FYI at the time the UK government website was the most useful resource.)
Deciding what to do…
The way it worked was, barring the first two weeks after birth, my wife and I could share up to 50 weeks of parental leave between us. For us, the key consideration was spending some of that time together (‘family time’) but both of us taking parental leave at the same time meant that we would shorten the total span of time we have off work.
For example, one of us could take 25 weeks and then alternate with the other taking 25 weeks; this meant we could span the entire year (i.e. no child care needed) but we would only overlap in the first two weeks after birth. Or we could both take the 25 weeks off at the same time, but this would mean we’d need to consider child care after only half the year…
However there were other considerations too! Some were work related, such as major project that was close to completion around the end of the year and something I was keen to support. I was involved in specialist technical work and the company needed my input to help ensure smooth completion of the project. After a little thought and discussion it turned out my wife and I were happy to be flexible over the timing of my SPL, however the company policy was not!
Fortunately, with support from the Chief Investment Officer, my head of department managed to successfully change the company policy to provide the flexibility needed. The final result was my wife took 30 weeks and I took 20 weeks of SPL; we overlapped for 12 weeks which was wonderful ‘family time’. Because I was able to start my SPL slightly later when baby Isaac was four months old, we were able to take a five-week holiday to the far-east visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Returning to work…
My wife found it challenging to return to work when our son was about seven months old as he did not take to having milk from a bottle and she found he reverted to breastfeeding through the night. She found this exhausting and, for a time, ended up reducing her working days from three days to just one day a week.
My company has embraced a very family-friendly approach to supporting its employees, and I think it helps having other work colleagues with children too. I love the work I do, so I did begin to miss work, however the SPL was crucial to me and my parental development; I believe I may have begun to resent work if I did not get SPL. The time away from the office was also good thinking time, and it gave me a chance to research areas at the forefront of my specialism.
Chief Investment Officer’s view
When Mike’s departmental head came to me to say that he wanted to support Mike’s wish to take shared parental leave (SPL), I was very pleased to add my backing wholeheartedly. Mike gave careful consideration to what would work best for his new family, but also to what would work for the business; he was a significant contributor to a major project that was reaching its conclusion.
When he came to the conclusion that it would be best for him not to commence his SPL straight after his parental leave, I added my voice to the request for the company policy to be changed to accommodate this…which it was.
Recognising that it would be very difficult to get somebody with Mike’s experience to provide paternity cover, we decided to employ a student, who was taking a year out, to cover the more routine elements of the team’s responsibilities. This student happened to be a woman. She got test drive investments as a career, we got a different perspective from her and Mike’s colleagues got a greater understanding of the details of his role – a win all round!*
The key to making this Mike’s SPL such a success was flexibility from everybody involved.
* Her exposure to investment data whilst with us helped her get a job in financial services.