Flexible Working Shared Parental Leave

Parental Leave: Why aren’t Dads speaking up for workplace rights?

“When did we agree that motherhood had to be a struggle?” So said Stella Creasey MP in a recent edition of the Sunday Times.

You may remember that Creasey made headlines back in September when she chaired a debate in Parliament with her newborn son, Pip, in a sling on her chest. Well, that wasn’t what made the headlines. What actually made the headlines was the fact Creasey received a letter from the Parliamentary authorities. Telling her that babies were not be brought into the debating chamber.

What does an MP Breast Feeding in Parliament have to do with Men gaining Shared Parental Leave?

You may be wondering what this has to do with DaddyJobs. In my opinion it has a lot to do with men’s place in the workplace and the home. I’m going to come to that in a moment, but first, a bit more about Creasey and her campaigning work.

Creasey took Pip into the debating chamber because she was breastfeeding him. You might think that sounds like an odd thing to do. You don’t, after all, generally see breastfeeding women taking their babies on to the shop floor or the office.

It’s not so straightforward for MPs. They are classed as ‘office holders’ as opposed to employees. So they don’t have the usual rights to parental leave or employment rights. While MPs do receive six months of parental leave, only an MP can vote or take part in a debate in Parliament.

This put Creasey in an awkward position when she had to chair that debate last September. Only she could chair the debate, but she knew Pip would need to be fed. So baby had to go along with mum.

I would say the rest is history, but it isn’t. That was just the beginning of the story. Creasey received a lot of flak from other MPs, the speaker of the House of Commons and a veritable army of ‘armchair commentators’ made their thoughts known on social media.

Changing the system for Women AND Men

Despite this, Creasey held strong. Her aim is to get the Parliamentary authorities to rethink their stance. So that a proper system of maternity cover can be put in place for MPs. And also for it to be possible for a locum to take part in votes or debates. She makes an excellent point that women could be put off entering politics by the current state of affairs. Along with Pregnant Then Screwed, Creasey launched a campaign called This Mum Votes. To encourage women with children into all levels of politics.

So far, so Stella Creasey. So what has this got to do with dads and working culture?

Where are the dads in Parliament calling for better parental leave rights for women and for men? Yet again, a woman is leading the debate about flexible working, parental leave and work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, I think Creasey should be doing what she is doing and she is doing a superb job. Without men also joining this discussion, however, this will be classed as a ‘women’s issue.’

We had an Evolution in Shared Parental Leave, but not a Revolution

Back in 2015, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced. It was a massive step in the right direction and it completely changed the discussion about men’s roles in the workplace and as fathers. While it increased discussion and debate, the SPL system is essentially a form of ‘transferable maternity leave.’ While it is more common to hear of dads taking a couple of months off work following the birth of a child, SPL was definitely more of an evolutionary move than a revolutionary one.

Are there any dads in Parliament demanding a review of SPL? I hear silence, even from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood.

If you cast your mind back to 2018, you might remember Andrew Griffiths MP was interviewed by Emma Barnett on BBC 5 Live (Barnett has gone on to become a Woman’s Hour presenter). Griffiths was on the show to promote SPL and encourage new dads to take some time off to be with their offspring. Unfortunately for him, the interview descended into farce when it transpired Griffiths recently had a child, but was unable to take SPL because Government ministers don’t qualify for it!

Yup, exactly the same rules that meant Creasey had to take her child into Parliament meant Griffiths couldn’t take SPL. Griffiths was made the butt of jokes in various newspaper reports but Creasey turned her experiences into a high-profile campaign that is gathering increasing interest and momentum.

Men need to be campaigning for better Parental Leave along with Women

Why does this matter? We need MPs to represent everyone. We need greater recognition of the fact equality is only achievable if men campaign for flexible working rights, if men campaign for better parental leave and if men campaign for better paternity pay.

This isn’t simply a reflection of the working culture of Parliament. It is a reflection of how committed male politicians are to changing the world for the better, for the better of their children and for the women in their lives.

It is also a reflection of how much politicians want to change wider working culture. If female and male politicians would speak up about the need to improve parental leave and to improve access and quality of flexible working, to improve job design and call upon employers to rethink the workplace, we’d have better equality.

I applaud what Creasey is doing and I think she is absolutely right. I just wish more men, especially those in positions of power in Parliament, would set an example and create a public discussion about why flexible working and good parental leave should be available to everyone.

You know what I also want to see? I want to see a male MP take his newborn child into the debating chamber in Westminster. Now that would make a statement.

It’s about having that conversation about all forms of flexible working, if you want to know more, have a read of John’s thoughts on; if your employer hasn’t embraced flexible working, ask yourself why.

Remote Working

Remote Work is Not Working from Home!

One of the most misleading statements I’ve seen banded about during the pandemic is that it’s going to lead to huge changes in the world of work. I’m even guilty of saying it myself.

If we seize the opportunity presented to us by remote work, it will be a lifestyle revolution. It’s a more inclusive approach that enables more women to enter the workforce, opens up career paths men traditionally wouldn’t consider, opens up job opportunities to those with disabilities and it removes the need for us all to be tied geographically to a workplace. At the centre of this revolution is the ability to work remotely.

The Reality of how people view Remote Working

The reality, however, is that most people think of remote working in a very limited way. Employers and employees alike confuse remote working with working from home.

Why are we limiting ourselves this way? Remote work should really be about where you are at a given time. Assuming you are producing the work expected of you, does it matter whether you are on a beach in Brazil, a Parisian café or sat on a bench on Wigan Pier? You could be working from anywhere and your home office is just one location.

If I think back to my working life, I was, many years ago, a travel journalist. Among other locations, I filed news reports from The Seychelles, the Hilton Hotel in Toronto and conference centres in France. In many respects, that job was the ultimate in remote work. Hold that thought, I’m going to come back to my travel journalist days in just a moment.

The Remote Work Pandemic

The introduction to remote working for many people was during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many employers were forced into accepting this way of working, but remote working during a global health pandemic is not what remote working should be.

Restrictions on movement meant the only place most people could work was their family home. Added to that, many people were having to oversee the remote schooling of their children while also doing the day job.

What the pandemic has done is shown us that remote working is possible. My brother-in-law made a fascinating observation on this point. He said:

“Imagine if every IT department in the country was told: ‘On 23 March, you’ve got to make it possible for every employee to be able to work from home.’ They’d have said it can’t be done.”

When it was forced upon employers, IT departments made it happen. We’ve seen that remote working is perfectly feasible. We’ve also seen that when men are released from a long, daily commute, they do more at home (Check out the fatherhood Institute’s Time With Dad campaign for more on this).

Remote Work Anywhere, so long as the Work gets Done

Yet when people talk about remote working, they only ever talk about working from their home. If they’re being really innovative, they may talk about working from a local café for an hour or two.

Remote working should be possible from anywhere. If it’s a glorious day and you fancy working from the beach, why not do it? Fancy catching a ferry to France and having lunch in Calais? Why not plug your laptop in and work during the crossing? Got to visit family in Aberdeen? Don’t take a day off work, catch the train and use the journey time productively.

We must not be limited by the experience of remote working we’ve had during the pandemic. The pandemic set the bar very low. The idea that you can only work from your office or your home is simply an extension of the culture of presenteeism. If accepted and adopted properly, remote working could free us all up to work from anywhere.

Remote Working does not mean Flexible Working either

I shall leave you with one final thought. Back in those days when I was a travel journalist, I worked all over the world and filed content from wherever I was at the time if needed. This aspect of remote working was never called into question. It was a part of the job.

Interestingly, I can’t ever recall working from home when I had that job. I can’t recall any of my colleagues working a single day at home either. To be honest, the culture of the place didn’t permit or encourage that kind of thing. If you were in the United States and had to email something back to the office, that was great but woe betide you for wanting to work from home because it would have made it easier for you to attend a medical appointment.

Isn’t it fascinating that my employer at that time had such an approach? Unfortunately, I think many employers still do and that’s why it’s vital we sing the praises of remote, flexible working and good job design. I, for one, want to join that choir!

If you what to read more from John, check out his take on if the media is driving divisive culture.

Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave: The lessons employers need to learn

When Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was first introduced, I saw a fringe benefit. In future, it was going to be much harder for employers to discriminate against women who had babies.

Equal Rights to Shared Parental Leave

Why so? Well, prior to 2015 when SPL was introduced, only women had the benefit of being able to take an extended period of time away from the office following the arrival of a child. Once SPL was in place, men and women had this right. Employers could no longer simply assume that mum would always be the one to take time away from work.

There are examples of superb practice where employers have seen the introduction of SPL as an opportunity to equalise – or at least improve – parental leave and benefits. Aviva, British Land, Zurich, Nestle, BDO LLP and Diageo are all names that spring to mind. Unfortunately, other employers have resisted this change, comfortable in the knowledge that they only need to be concerned with female staff taking extended breaks from the workplace.

The Problem With Shared Parental Leave

A little while ago I heard from one man who attempted to exercise their legal right to take SPL, only to be taken into a back room and informed his boss would do all he could to “block” his request. Alas, he is not alone. I have heard similar stories.

Here’s another example of what can go wrong when a man takes SPL. It involves a man called Adam.

When Adam’s wife was pregnant with their first child, SPL was a new concept. He was the first person in his organisation to request the leave. Interestingly, Adam explained that his HR department were quite enthusiastic for him to take the leave as they wanted the experience of processing and assisting a man. He was, for all intents and purposes, a pioneer! Unfortunately the response from his manager was not quite so positive. While his manager made no attempt to block the leave, he happened to remark: “You’re not going to do this again are you?”

A Man’s Man!

Added to this, there was a certain amount of negativity from colleagues. At the office Christmas party, one female colleague, clearly fired up after a few flaming sambucas, approached Adam and told him she didn’t approve of men taking on the main caregiving role and that she liked: “A man’s man.”

To top it all off, Adam failed to get a promotion that he was expecting to come his way. It’s this last example that tells you all you need to know.

It shows that in some companies, the sexism women faced hasn’t gone away. Instead, it’s simply been extended so men. Men now face the same issues such as promotions being denied and bosses reluctantly agreeing to the SPL request, but as happened with Adam, making clear they aren’t happy about it. Two wrongs do not make a right. Simply making men face the same sexism that women have been dealing with will not make the workplace a more equal environment.

Asked what he thought about his employer’s response to him taking SPL, Adam remarked: “It wasn’t a great experience.”

Reap The Benefits Of Shared Parental Leave

Despite his experiences, I asked Adam what advice he’d give a man thinking of taking SPL. He thought they should definitely do it:

“Embrace it. Do not listen to the noise or any b******. You’ll reap the benefit. I have the most amazing bond with my daughter and I wouldn’t have had that if I had not spent so much time with her in the early days.”

I also asked what advice he’d give employers who have staff taking SPL:

“Give your staff the time and space they need. Keeping In Touch days (KIT) are invaluable. If you are holding events that staff could attend, after work drinks or something like that, invite them along. It is hard to keep people in the fold when they are away from the office for a long time, but you can take simple steps so staff can keep up with what’s happening.”

The one saving grace from all of this is that Adam’s story dates back to when SPL was first introduced. Time has moved on and you’d hope employers had changed their approach and embraced SPL.

It is becoming more common for men to take SPL when they become fathers. That said, take up among men has been notoriously low. Reasons cited for this have included the potential impact on a man’s career. Adam’s story tends to suggest this is a problem. Instead of removing the discrimination women faced, men are also having to deal with it.

A Route To Equality

As a society we really do need to accept that men can be caregivers. Neither women nor men will experience true equality until we do and a lot of the responsibility for changing those attitudes rests with employers.

Flexible Working Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Supporting Men in the Workplace upon Return to Work

As Governments of the United Kingdom cautiously signal a slow easing of lockdown restrictions, employees are going to trickle back into the workplace. They may not return five days a week, but return they will. This begs the question: What steps are employers taking to welcome back men into the workplace?

That may sound like a sexist question, but it isn’t. Allow me to explain why:

Many employers are used to welcoming female staff back to work after a prolonged period of maternity leave. Employers often have Keeping In Touch days and other initiatives for women, but not men. Added to this, in most households it is mum who balances work while doing most of the childcare. The past year has been very different. Fathers have been around to help with getting the kids ready in the morning, with remote learning and been much more involved with family life.

This has resulted in a big shift in mentality for lots of men. Far from being sexist, what we’ll hopefully see is men taking on more of the childcare and domestic burden at home. Thereby freeing women up to concentrate on work and their careers. The question is, are employers ready for this monumental change in working culture?

Men’s domestic roles have changed

I asked Ian Dinwiddy for his opinion. Ian operates Inspiring Dads, a coaching service for men in the workplace who struggle balancing work and family life. I asked how he thought employers should prepare for welcoming dads back to the workplace:

“For many people, the return to the workplace will be fraught with tension, potential ongoing concerns about personal safety, and the ‘simple’ emotional challenges of change.

“To support men, it is vital to take the time for an individual assessment of needs, both from a mental health perspective and work life ‘balance’ perspective. Many men will have fundamentally changed their domestic role, especially dads caring for children, and altered their expectations of the trade-offs they are prepared to accept.”

As you can see, Ian confirmed what I’d been thinking: Many men will have reassessed their role in the home. Ian also issued the following warning:

“Any failure to recognise and carefully support men are likely to store up well-being, performance, and talent retention issues for businesses everywhere.”

What the employer organisations say

With Ian’s words ringing in my ears, I approached the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). I asked what advice it was giving employers about welcoming back men into the workplace. I was directed to this article on the FSB website.

Credit where it’s due, the article addresses Ian’s concern that employees might be concerned about the risks posed by returning to the workplace. It also mentioned childcare and the possibility of furloughing staff for longer if necessary so they can deal with children. That said, the FSB didn’t offer any specific advice for supporting dads (or mums) when they return to work.

My next stop was the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The CBI had a dedicated Coronavirus Hub on its website with some great resources. There were ideas and case studies to help employers support staff mental health and support staff working from home. There was mention of the stresses faced by “working parents” but nothing about easing working dads back into the workplace.

Having looked at a couple of employer organisations, I approached an employer directly. Zurich is a company with a reputation for being a very forward-thinking organisation with a good approach to gender equality. I made enquiries about how it was preparing for staff to return and if it had identified any issues where men in the workplace might need some additional support.

The insurer hasn’t yet firmed up its plans. It is still “considering how to welcome staff back to the workplace” so it’s unclear at this stage what support will be available.

How to support men returning to the workplace

All things considered, I felt more than a little underwhelmed with how UK employers are preparing to welcome men back into the workplace.
With no one else providing tips for helping male employees back in to the office, I’ve put together a few suggestions:

  1. Be mindful of the fact men are less likely to acknowledge and admit they are having difficulties re-adjusting to office life. Have regular catch-ups. Ask how they are doing and make sure they are familiar with any workplace counselling services or mental health support that is on offer.
  2. Why not introduce Keeping In Touch days for all employees before they return to the office? There is no reason why these can’t run virtually.
  3. Look at the diversity training undertaken by your management team. Do they undertake training to better understand the stresses and strains faced by mums AND dads? A lot of diversity training ignores dads. This is a big oversight. The reality is that many employers are more flexible in their approach to working mothers. After a year of working from home, much of it spent in the company of their children, dads will expect equal treatment. Managers need to be aware of this.
  4. Are you ready and prepared for a surge in requests from male employees who want to formalise flexible working arrangements? They’ve spent a year balancing work with childcare responsibilities and been productive. And employers need to give all such requests serious consideration thinking long and hard before turning them down.
  5. Keep in mind that employees may have other caring responsibilities. They may be looking after an ill or disabled family member or spouse.

Being Aware that Change has taken place

To wrap up, let me make clear that women should receive the same levels of support. But employers need to be aware of how a year of working from home will have impacted and changed the expectations of fathers.

Things have changed a lot for men and employers need to accept this and take appropriate action. If they don’t, men will talk to employers who offer greater understanding and flexibility.

Business And Careers Flexible Working

A Wider Understanding Of Dads And Flexible Working

We have been busy talking to dads and discussing their experiences of working and parenting life through lockdown. Are there positives to come out of this pandemic. What are the lessons learned? What are dads’ experiences of flexible working?

Meet Simon Gregory Managing Partner at GPS Return

I normally explain to people what I do by saying “I run a recruitment business that specialises in helping parents return to work”. What follows is usually an engaging discussion about how, where, what etc. Then that person introduces me to another by saying “he helps mums go back to work”. I’m sure I said “parents”, what happened to the dads?

Dads Face Different Challenges

At GPS Return we work with professionals returning to work, regardless of the circumstances. 95% of them are parents and 95% of them are mums. However, we are seeing more dads reach out to us looking to return to work. But, the challenges they face are quite different. 

David Took 12 Months Out To Be A Full Time Parent

A simple example of this is David, an experienced senior sales manager who took 12 months out to be a full-time parent. On his return to work, as a lot of people do, he reached out to an ex-boss…  “I see your balls have grown back then”. Needless to say, David didn’t go back to work for that particular boss. Sadly the perception that it is the dad’s job to ‘bring home the bacon’ and the mum’s job to look after the children persist. 

Sadly, the fear of being ridiculed for putting family first is stopping many Dads from asking for flexibility. But not Charles. We worked with Charles who, whilst still working, was trying to find a job that offered flexibility so he could be more present at home. He had put in a flexible work request. The result was he could leave work an hour earlier on a Friday. Even though a female colleague in a similar role was allowed to reduce her hours and work some of those hours from home. 

Charles Was Told To ‘Grow A Thick Skin’

What made it worse was that every Friday when Charles left the office early he was met with ‘banter’. “Taking another half-day are you?” and “Have a good weekend, Thumbprint!”. It became so normal that even the Intern had a go. But because Charles was Charles his manager said he should ‘grow a thicker skin’. His HR said ‘it’s just banter so ignore it’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying dads find it harder than mums. But, we do face different challenges that are often hard to cope with. When things get tough, men are expected to man up and deal with it.

Workplace Evolution

But, as the workplace has been forced to evolve with more people working flexibly, there is now a wider understanding. This understanding comes from both businesses and individuals, of the benefits that it can bring to business and home life. Companies are reassessing whether they need large offices and whether people need to be in the office every day. Staff are wondering if they can cope with a full-time job whilst the kids are on school holidays.

Deeper than that though, people we’re speaking to are re-thinking home and work. Rather than having one parent working 60hrs per week and one full-time parent, why not have both parents working a combination of reduced hours and remote working. This way both can develop a career and spend quality time with the family? 

David and Charles both found opportunities. This time with organisations that valued their skills and experience and offered them the flexibility they were looking for. In other words, organisations that enabled them to be both the parent and the professionals they wanted to be.

Read more stories of dad’s in lockdown here;

Dads and the opportunities to come from the pandemic

Flexible Working

How Dads Can Get More Flexibility At Work?

Requesting Flexible Working

What is a dad to do if his employer does not have a culture that accepts men have families and caring responsibilities outside of the workplace? While times are changing, this is still a major issue. It’s not always an easy one to address because it can involve full-scale cultural change, but I’ve put forward a few ideas that fathers in the workplace may find helpful.

It Starts With The Application Process

Let’s start at the very beginning. Before you even apply for a job, look closely at the job advert. Does it make any mention about flexible working being encouraged? Prior to completing the application form, quiz the recruitment consultant about the company’s family friendly policies or call the HR department and have a quick chat.

Ask if the organsation pays paternity and maternity leave benefits at the same rate. Ask if it has written shared parental leave and paternity leave policies. If the answer to either of these questions is “no” then it’s a big warning sign.

I’ll tell you a story to demonstrate my point. I once went for a job interview and asked what benefits came with the job. I was being sly and testing the culture of the organisation. My eldest daughter was only one year old at the time and I was hoping the manager heading the panel would tell me about childcare vouchers or mention some family-friendly benefit or policy.

Instead he looked at his colleague, turned back to me and said: “You get a salary.”

It was a dreadful, condescending answer. It was immediately clear to me this manager was a dinosaur and that I could expect nothing in terms of balancing work and family. I wasn’t too upset when I didn’t get the job!

Flexible Working And Shared Parental Leave (SPL) Are Your Legal Right.

Do not think your employer is doing you a favour by agreeing to your request for SPL or flexible working. A lot of people, especially men, make this mistake. Remember, SPL is your legal right. Your right to request flexible working is also enshrined in law.

Be polite and put forward a strong business case. Look around your organisation and highlight examples where other people have worked flexibly or taken SPL. If a precedent has been set, it’s hard for your employer to turn you down.

It may also be that you’re merely the first man to ask for SPL or flexible working. You may feel nervous but discover that you’re blazing a trail and knocking at an open door!

Seek Support From Your Trade Union

If you are a trade union member and your workplace recognises your union, speak to your union representative. Managers are usually reluctant to pick fights with unions, especially over issues like SPL or flexible working which have a legal framework behind them.

Approaching things this way also means you are not on your own. You’ll have support from an organisation used to dealing with employee / employer disputes and successfully mediating between them.

Engage With Any Women’s Groups

If you are stuck with a management team that isn’t interested in your flexible working request or is doing all it can to put you off applying for SPL; seek help from any women’s groups within the workplace.

If there isn’t a women’s interest group (they are more common among big employers) try and find someone on the Staff Council or staff consultative body with an interest in issues affecting women in the workplace.

This may not sound like an obvious thing to do, but these groups can be incredibly powerful allies. They are in a strong position to point out to management that failing to provide male employees the same benefits and rights as women has a negative impact on both genders.

I’ll give you an example. I know of a FTSE 100 company that introduced equal paternity leave and pay because its women’s group campaigned for it. The group members recognised it was unfair men didn’t have the same rights and spoke up for their male colleagues. The result was a huge uptake in men taking SPL.

Be Clear About What You Are Requesting

Be clear about what you are requesting. If you are requesting to work from home two days a week, say so. If you plan to take four months SPL starting in March, make that clear. Your employer is much more likely to agree to a clear request as it’s easier form them to plan accordingly.

If you simply request to work flexibly or say you want to take SPL but you’re not sure what date you wish to take it from or for how long for, you can’t be too surprised if the answer comes back as a “no.” After all, how is an employer supposed to plan for such circumstances?

One other piece of advice is be flexible. You might want to work from home two days a week. But, what if your employer looks at your request and offers you three days home working every fortnight? Could you make that work? Be prepared to compromise as both you and your employer have different agendas.

Fathers In The Workplace Toolkit

Finally, if you think your employer might be receptive to the idea, introduce them to the Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit. This free resource is put together by researchers from the University of Birmingham.

It’s aim was to give employers and HR professionals easy-to-implement ideas that could make a workplace more father-friendly. You can read about it yourself – Fathers In The Workplace Toolkit. It suggests every employer should have a Fatherhood Champion. This would be someone who works flexibly and can be consulted about their experiences and explain its importance. It also says workplace parenting groups should be inclusive of fathers and suggests employees with children should have a ‘parenting passport.’ This is a document outlining a staff member’s home situation, shared privately between managers. It will help managers understand the needs of staff as they progress through an organisation.

Be Brave

We’ve all been in the position of asking for something from a boss, knowing the answer might not be the one we want. Employers have years of experience dealing with mums who work flexibly or go on extended leave following the birth of a child.

It’s a relatively new thing for both employers and employees when a man asks for SPL or to work flexibly. The only way it can be normalised is if men ask for SPL or flexi-working. The culture of your organisation may not have caught up with the times. The onus is on us men to bring about that change so be brave and speak to your boss. Oh, one final thing, very best of luck!

Interested in how covid is changing our working culture then you may want to read – Changes To Working Culture During Lockdown

Maybe you’d like to hear more about our DaddyJobs author John Adams.