Q&A: Common reasons companies bring up for not driving SPL

Why would we actively try and drive take up of SPL? We have some men in roles who are not replaceable and the company would really suffer if they were off.

Having large numbers of people in roles who are not replaceable is a high risk approach to staffing, what if the employee was off with ill health and the organisation has no time to plan to backfill? With SPL, employers have time to plan and most fathers who take it only take an average of between 6-8 weeks (Gore, 2018; BBC, 2018), which is generally manageable in a business. The return on the investment is considerable in terms of motivation, employee loyalty, retention etc.

There are also compelling reasons why women need to be able to progress at the same rate as men within the workplace. As well as providing women with economic stability, satisfying jobs and careers, inclusive and diverse teams are more likely to be effective and better able to understand their customers and stakeholders. All this can improve the scope to contribute fresh perspectives, new ideas and vigorous challenge and it translates into better decision making and growth.

Why would we actively communicate the policy? If lots of people take it, we will just have women and men taking time away from the workplace?

Research demonstrates fathers and potential fathers want these opportunities and will look to work for employers who provide these sorts of benefits (Working Families 2016 Report). The statutory SPL policy works in such a way that the year-long allocation of leave is shared between mothers and fathers, so where you might have more fathers away from the workplace, you would likely have fewer mothers away.  If both men and women take periods of time away from the workplace, there is likely to be less overall impact on career trajectories, the departments they are leave from and the gender pay gap is likely to be reduced.

In addition, many new parents are unclear how the system will work for their families and careers. Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility; deterring them from looking into it. Employers must take a proactive approach towards leave for new parents – not only for mothers, but fathers too. If an employer is seen as sympathetic to the needs of new parents, they are more likely to enjoy retention of staff (WBC, 2013).

We have done lots of communication around SPL and take up is still really low – it doesn’t look like people are that interested.

Employees and particularly perspective parents are very interested in the policy (Howington, 2018; Taaffe, 2017; Harrington et al., 2015), yet they often can’t see how the policy will work for them and are worried about the potential impact on the father’s career of taking time out. Research shows that people aren’t taking SPL because of other barriers not due to lack of interest. These barriers include concerns about the impact on family finances, concerns about career development for fathers, maternal gatekeeping, gender norms in society and in organisations and poor communication (Birkett and Forbes, 2018). If we can collectively tackle these barriers we can support families to make decisions which balance their work responsibilities with their family responsibilities.

Other things will have a much stronger influence for us on closing the gender pay gap and strengthening our female talent pipeline than SPL – it’s not a priority.

There are lots of potential levers for closing the gender pay gap in organisations.  Greater flexible-working opportunities for fathers, quality part-time career roles etc. SPL is one important lever because we know that currently the gap between a women’s and man’s average salaries widens dramatically after the birth of her first child (Costa Dias et al., 2016). Moreover, to a large extent this is due to a prolonged absence from the workplace and the likelihood of women returning part-time or taking a demotion to facilitate flexibility. As well as supporting the bonding process, SPL can help with women’s labour market attachment.

Women in the middle phase of their working lives are looking to capitalise on the progress they have made, either by securing their positions or looking to move into senior and managerial roles. This is also a time when many women will have children and can experience a downward shift in status. Three issues are critical at this point: how business manages talent; the cost and availability of childcare; and a working arrangement and culture which gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where and when they work. This can be in terms of working time, working location and pattern of working (WBC, 2013).

SPL is a nice thing to do, but just not core to our Business.

SPL is a national policy so organisations cannot opt out, it therefore makes sense to use the policy to the advantage of the organisation.  One way SPL has been used very positively in many organisations is for succession planning, giving high potential people the opportunity to act up for a short period of time and test them in a higher level role.  There are things organisations can do to promote the policy which are low risk with few resources, such as develop an accessible concise policy and clearly communicate this broadly around the organisation. The sorts of returns such as recruitment and retention and employee wellbeing are important to all organisations.

We don’t have the resources to drive take up of policies like SPL.

There are things an organisation can do without much resource, in order to increase awareness and take-up in your organisation, such as, developing an accessible and concise policy which is well communicated or using role model example cases on their websites even if these are from another organisation initially. This toolkit is designed so that many of the modules can be picked up and implemented by a mid-level HR professional with very little resource.

In most cases, don’t mothers just want to be spending the first year at home with their children?

There will be cases where mothers want to spend the first year with their child, but research also suggests that fathers want to spend more time in the first year with their child and this is an increasing trend (Harrington, et al., 2015). In the online survey of fathers conducted by the EHRC (2009), a staggering 96% of working-fathers really valued their working arrangements, while two thirds (66%) of all fathers considered the availability of flexible-working to be important when looking for a new job. All families are different and there isn’t a one size fits all answer. The working patterns of couple households with dependent children across EU countries are changing. Only 22% of UK couple families with dependent children comprise a working father and a stay-at-home mother; the smallest percentage ever recorded (NatCen, 2014).

Looking at the time that fathers spend looking after their children in relation to their earnings and working hours, CRFR (2007) found that fathers that care more also earn more. Fathers who report spending a higher level of paternal time earn around 1% more than other fathers. This is not necessarily linked to longer working hours. To the contrary, fathers who report spending the highest level of paternal time, work slightly shorter hours than all other men. In contrast, those fathers who report spending the lowest level of paternal time work slightly longer hours than other men.

It would be easier for us as an organisation to just extend and enhance Paternity Leave for fathers.

While it may seem easier to merely enhance paternity leave because organisations and fathers are more familiar with this policy this approach does not offer all the advantages of encouraging SPL take up either for the organisation or for the parents.  More paternity leave would generally mean that men who take it have a few extra weeks at the start with their partner which would be good for child development, bonding, mental health and wellbeing. However, this approach does not help with women’s labour market attachment or give women more options about when they might want to return to work. Also, wider benefits to the family can be realised if fathers are also encouraged to be sole careers for a period which is only possible with SPL.

Isn’t this all just about making things as difficult for men with children in the in the workplace as it is for women with children?

No, it is about equality and sharing the benefits of time spent with your children and taking joint responsibility for your family. If all parents are equally likely to take leave when they have children it will become less likely that women will be discriminated against for taking time away from the workplace or because they might have children in the future.