Navigating Shared Parental Leave: The Employee Experience

Our Senior Recruitment Advisor, Anna Sapkota, recently started using the Government’s Shared Parental Leave scheme. Despite its introduction in the UK in 2015, the scheme is still not commonly used, so Anna was keen to write about her experience of it so far.

Choosing Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is still, to some extent, not the norm. Uptake in the UK is still relatively low according to national figures. In 2021 around 2 – 8% of eligible couples chose SPL according to a national study. In Sweden and Iceland, where they offer non-transferrable leave for the secondary caregiver, uptake is around 90% according to an EU study completed back in 2018. All these figures result in questions on why uptake in the UK is so low. Perhaps we have a lot more to do when it comes to sharpening our SPL policies to be in line with our Scandinavian neighbours, and reviewing how we can make it more of a ‘normal’, financially viable and positive choice for soon-to-be-parents.

After giving birth to our son in May, I have recently returned to work as part of our SPL schedule. During my pregnancy, my partner and I gave a lot of thought to what we wanted to do, and what options were available to us. SPL was the best option for a number of reasons but predominantly our thought process came down to three key benefits that were important to us both:

  • We both wanted time to bond with our baby. This also benefits our baby and he is able to spend quality time with us both, rather than just one of us.
  • We both value the work we do and feel work gives us a lot back. It helps us both have a balanced approach to life and our routines, and we also enjoy the social aspect of it.
  • Having a couple of months each in rotation means in theory that we each don’t miss too many stages of development.

We decided to do roughly two months each and rotate that way. (What a payroll nightmare!) So far, it has worked well. It does help that we both have such flexible employers, but this should be the norm for individuals and couples going through this journey.

A report released this year by the National Centre for Social Research identified organisations in three categories:

Supportive Workplaces: Staff at all levels highly supportive of men and women sharing parenting roles and leave, with senior managers seeing the positives of SPL as outweighing the negatives.

Receptive Workplaces: Senior Leadership were also supportive of SPL. But they voiced concerns about financial costs of take up. Other staff had mixed views about gender roles in parenting, with traditional views still common among some older or male employees.

Hesitant Workplaces: Senior Leadership were supportive of the idea of SPL, but in reality were more comfortable with women taking time off to care for a new child and were not familiar with men wanting to do this.

(NCSR report, June 2023: Taking up Shared Parental Leave and Pay)

I am incredibly lucky that I am able to balance my time flexibly due to having such a supportive workplace in Hunter Adams, which also means I can continue breastfeeding as well. Not all employers have this approach which means that some individuals find it challenging to balance the transition back to work. There are a few things that can make the transition easier, especially during SPL.

Whether an employee is breastfeeding, expressing or formula feeding; an employer can make life a bit easier by communicating that they understand and support whatever choices their employee is making. Before I returned to work for the first part of my SPL, my manager, Eilidh Robertson, had already connected with me to discuss the transition, which was so helpful and kept things organised for when I came back. Our Managing Director, Jennifer Marnoch, called me on day one to welcome me back to work, but also to reinforce that feeding is a priority and the company are entirely supportive of whatever choice I made. In my case, I chose breastfeeding (although this was a separate challenge entirely and needs a blog all to itself!) and when your baby needs fed on demand, you cannot schedule timings as much as you would prefer to. I should add that expressing and formula feeding raise equal challenges – there is no comparison here as it is such a personal choice, and all equally demanding. Communication from our MD as well as my supportive manager reinforcing that support was exactly what I needed. When you return to work you are unsure of the journey ahead having never been a working parent before (if it is your first child), and when you have meetings with clients and team members as well as a hungry baby you are juggling both worlds whilst also wanting to excel at both.  By having a supportive employer, team, leadership as well as a supportive partner; the journey can seem less turbulent. Employers can take Hunter Adams‘ example and not just assume that employees will know not to worry or be concerned about the perception of taking time as required for feeds. Although employers are obliged to give time off for appointments, feeding and a safe space to feed/express in, this doesn’t necessarily mean that employees feel they can. And with plenty of other things to worry about an employer can make this process easier by over-communicating their support.

Before I came back to work, I had been in regular contact with my manager and colleagues, which was hugely helpful. Part of my concern prior to returning, was around my contribution and how that would work. On days one and two I had discussions with my manager around how I could support the team as my first part of SPL consisted of five weeks back at work. This is a short period of time and could have made it challenging to get embedded into your work without then untangling yourself from certain discussions and projects. Luckily, it has worked well and I’ve slotted back in to my regular workload, whilst also working in tandem with colleagues so that my not being there doesn’t have an impact. It’s important for employees to feel they are adding value to their organisation so communicating clearly what the expectations are regarding involvement and timescales is really important.

Working Model
Part of making the transition easier for me has been the lack of pressure to be in an office. We have a beautiful office that I am keen to get to, but for now, with feeding on demand, jumping on a train to the city is just not feasible, never mind being able to spend a day in the office. I have spoken to friends who have had a different experience where they have had to be back in the office regardless of their responsibilities and feelings about the situation. This feeds into the lack of engagement they felt on their return to work. Lack of engagement is dangerous and means we risk losing employees as they feel they aren’t valued. This works both ways and if an employee doesn’t feel their values align with their employer, their commitment and drive to give their employer their valuable time dwindles down until they make the decision to move on. At Hunter Adams we are lucky to be part of an organisation that supports our personal choices around what works best for us and our unique situations.

Navigating SPL has been quite a transition, but the support of a great team, manager and leadership has meant a smoother journey for me personally, so far.

Perhaps if SPL policies were more supportive of two parents taking non-transferrable time off like our Scandinavian neighbours, there would be more uptake. However, it is worth considering that the policies and financials are just a part of the whole picture. Workplace culture and communications around supporting SPL are vital to promoting this option for soon-to-be parents, as well as making sure that feeding isn’t a worry, that the workload and contribution expectations are clear, and that the working model is the right option for each personal situation. The returns for employers can be immeasurable, from recruitment and retention to employee wellbeing and motivation, as well as a general sense of commitment. In this turbulent market it is worth considering how this can set an employer apart.


Written by Anna Sapkota, Senior Recruitment Advisor at Hunter Adams –