Shared Parental Leave: supporting new fathers

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Men’s Health Month throughout November offers an opportunity to focus on the wellbeing of those who identify as male.

This is particularly important to new fathers as they navigate parenthood. One way the University is supporting this group is with the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) policy, which allows more flexibility in how much time off new parents can take from work. Rather than the traditional amount of maternity and paternity leave, which allow mothers much more, SPL means couples can share the total amount of time between them however they would like. This allows new fathers, in particular, to spend more time with their new babies.

Here Bulletin speaks to members of the Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) team about their experiences of SPL and how they, and their families, have benefitted from it.

Gaining headspace

Matthew Lawson is Senior Social Responsibility and Sustainability Programme Manager. He went on shared parental leave for 14 weeks in 2019 when his youngest son, Charlie, was six months old: “It was amazing! I really enjoyed and appreciated the time I got to spend with Charlie, as well as with my eldest son Ruaridh, who was at nursery at the time.”

Matthew’s wife, Michelle, went back to work part time when Matthew began his SPL, and they both agree it was a great experience for the whole family: “I got to spend more time with my boys and as a family we got to spend more time together. It also allowed me and our family to catch up with friends and family who we hadn’t seen in ages, due to work and being too busy at the weekends.”

For Matthew, being able to take a substantial amount of time off allowed him the headspace needed: “It allowed me to take a break from thinking about work, and free up my mind, to focus on other things that I hadn’t had time for. I also really enjoyed introducing my youngest to the outdoors, lots of walks with the pram and the baby harness.

“It has had a big impact on me, especially on my thoughts on future work-life balance,” he continued. “Time goes so fast when you have children and I want to be there with them for those everyday moments and special milestones. Having a healthy work-life balance helps you to bring energy and productivity to your work, especially when your work is about driving forward change in an organisation.”

The positive culture in the SRS team has been integral to Matthew being able to continue the work-life balance he achieved through his SPL: “Our department has been wonderful in supporting colleagues to find a balance between working in the office and at home. A few days a week, I work at home, which enables me to do the nursery and school run, which is just great.”

A unique opportunity

Siôn Pickering is Sustainable Business and Fairtrade Programme Manager. After speaking to others in the team, he also decided to take SPL, which begins later this month. He explains the decision: “It’s literally an opportunity that comes around once in their lives. It is unlikely there will be another time where I am given the opportunity to dedicate such a large proportion of my time to my child’s direct development. Working from home since before my daughter – Angharad – was born, means I’ve been able to support the family much more than if I had been in the office and I’m really looking forward to spending time with her as she learns new skills and develops.”

For Siôn, the stability of knowing he has a role to return to has been key in safeguarding his mental health: “The safety of knowing I return to a position at the end of my SPL will mean I’m able to focus on Angharad, rather than having to apply for new jobs and such if I’d taken the same amount of time away from my career.”

It’s not just Siôn who has identified mental health benefits from the arrangement: “I know my wife is eager to return to her own role and by taking SPL for a few months it should give her the opportunity to focus on her own mental and physical wellbeing a little more, knowing that Angharad is with me.”

So how is he feeling about the upcoming leave? “I’m both excited and nervous for it. I have these grand plans of what Angharad and I will do together but – seeing how my wife has adapted her activities during her maternity leave – I’m fully aware that these are likely to be dashed early on! Having said that, I’m looking forward to keeping my brain and body active throughout, and am looking at how I can introduce my daughter to my own passion for being in the great outdoors, whether running, walking or by bike – or skis if we get some snow!”

Transferable skills

Andrew Arnott is a Project Coordinator. He split the 12 months leave equally with his partner, spending six months with his son: “I really enjoyed it! It was hard of course, parenting is – there are so many ways to feel like you’re doing it wrong – but it was lovely to spend so much time with my son. Also, my partner at that time worked shorter hours, so for a few months we had four day weekends every week, which was really nice for us to grow close as a family.”

For Andrew and his partner though, there were challenges. Andrew explains more: “I know my partner found it hard to give up what could have been six months more leave for her though. That was quite a tough transition, especially when so many of her peers in our antenatal group were taking a full 12 months. It’s a shame that this aspect of gender equality, to make things overall a bit better for mothers and fathers, actually requires sacrifice from the mothers – but that’s a bigger, systemic issue not really within the power of the University.”

Having more time off to spend with his family helped Andrew to understand what was important to him: “I think it probably helped me to reprioritise, at least for this period of my life. As long as I’m earning enough to pay the bills I am not that concerned with climbing to the next rung on the ladder. Being able to finish my work at the allotted time, and not working extra hours, is very valuable to me.”

Despite this, Andrew feels that the experience has also taught him about other skills he can bring to his role in SRS too. He elaborates: “I also noticed during my SPL that there are a lot of great transferrable skills which parents gain during that first year – especially problem solving, flexibility, and assessing the credibility of different information sources. I know I’m not the only one saying this, but I’d like to add my voice to those asking for great value to be assigned to returning parents – less talk about baby brain and more acknowledgement of the skills gained, like if the person had been on a secondment.”

Find out more about shared parental leave on the HR webpages.