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Employers should expect increase in shared parental leave

Louise Lawrence, Partner - Winckworth Sherwood

Employers should prepare themselves for more staff taking interest in shared parental leave.

That’s one of the main findings of a new report commissioned by employment law specialists, Winckworth Sherwood.  Shifting attitudes to flexible working and childcare for working parents reveals the results of exclusive YouGov research among employees and HR decision makers.

While only 7% of employees with children have taken up the opportunity of shared parental leave so far, 38% of those planning to have further children intend to do so when they have their next child.

Louise Lawrence, Partner, Winckworth Sherwood, comments: “The statutory scheme for shared parental leave is complex, and it’s relatively low paid, but nevertheless a major shift could be upon us.

“As societal norms change and fathers feel more able to request time off, families may decide they want to share responsibilities more equally.  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.”   

The report covers a range of issues which employers are increasingly embracing to maintain a competitive edge – including working from home, core and flexible hours, and extended leave.

It shows a disconnect between employers and employees in flexible working attitudes.  While 12% of employees admit they would lack motivation or be too distracted to work from home, nearly double the proportion of HR decision makers (23%) are concerned about whether employees can be trusted to work from home generally.  Louise Lawrence comments:  “Issues around trust by managers can be reduced by recruiting the right talent, focusing on outcomes rather than time spent, engaging with managers to get them on board with flexible working practices, and ensuring that there is a regular two-way dialogue between managers and employees.”

However, there is such clear momentum behind flexible working that organisations are introducing it despite perceived difficulties – from limited IT systems to overcoming cultural objections.

Although 78% of employers say there are barriers of some kind to flexible working in their organisation, 81% nonetheless offer it in some form. This is perhaps recognition that talented employees may otherwise look for jobs elsewhere, and so it is worth overcoming any obstacles.

The report comes shortly after the announcement in the Queen’s Speech of a new employment bill, in which flexible working is proposed to become a default position for all employers.

How this will be implemented is, as yet, not known and the Government plans to consult,” says Louise Lawrence.  “However, it’s clear which way the wind is blowing and that organisations need to plan ahead.

Among the report’s recommendations is that organisations should implement a formal flexible working policy.  Many employers don’t yet have this. Any policy should make clear to the employee their rights, what they can request and what flexibility is available for a particular role or team or more widely across the organisation.  That will support the open discussions that employers need to have with their employees and job applicants, if they are to continue to retain and recruit the best talent.”

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