Fewer than one in 10 employees using shared parental leave

Survey finds more workers plan to take advantage of SPL for future children, but experts warn a supportive culture is just as important as policies

Fewer than one in 10 working parents are taking advantage of shared parental leave (SPL), a survey has found; however, this could start to increase as families move away from traditional parenting models.

The poll of 1,000 UK employees by YouGov and Winckworth Sherwood found that just 7 per cent of respondents with children had taken SPL. However, 17 per cent, including both parents and non-parents, said they intended to take SPL after having a future child.

The research found a similar number of men and women said they would take SPL in the future, citing a “noticeable shift” away from the traditional model of the mother staying at home.

However, the survey, which also polled 500 HR decision-makers, said there was a “disconnect” between employees and HR when it came to flexible working. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of HR decision-makers said a lack of trust in employees created a barrier to working from home. 

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the research showed employees valued flexibility. “Shared parental leave policies are likely to result in greater commitment and loyalty from employees, and can help boost an organisation’s reputation for being a good employer,” she said, adding that it could also improve gender equality at work and help narrow the gender pay gap.

“However, just as important as having shared parental leave policies is creating a culture where people feel able and supported to take them up." 

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But Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said that while an increased uptake of SPL would be positive, statutory paid paternity leave needed to increase. 

She called for paternity leave to match the six weeks that new mothers received, arguing it would “allow dads to be more involved from the get go, whereas shared parental leave is too often a ‘nice to have’ for couples that can afford it”.

Brearley added: “We need to change the message that mums are the primary carers by enabling dads [to have] the same opportunity to take paid time at the beginning and start to truly level the playing field by doing so.”

Louise Lawrence, partner at Winckworth Sherwood, said the results indicated that a “major shift could be upon us” as fathers felt more able to request time off.

“Pay is clearly important and if employers decide to match their enhanced maternity pay, we expect to see more take-up of shared parental leave. Increasingly, both parents may seek extended time away from work and employers should plan for this eventuality,” she said.