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Shared parental leave: How to make it work for your business

Encouraging paternity leave could benefit your business - but so far take-up has been low. Ian Cowley, managing director of cartridgesave.co.uk, takes a look at how you can embrace shared leave in a practical way.

The law changed in April to allow parents to take shared parental leave during their child's first year. However uptake has been low. A study by My Family Care has revealed only two per cent of businesses have seen a significant uptake, despite 38 per cent reporting interest from staff.

Encouraging paternity leave could be hugely beneficial for your small business for two reasons.

Firstly, it will help shift the focus away from childcare as "women's work". This negative assumption results in a lot of new mums scaling back on their ambition and commitment simply because their partners can't share the domestic workload.

Secondly, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said when he announced his decision to take paternity leave: "Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families."

Your staff should work to live and enabling them to have the best possible life will keep them motivated, loyal and engaged. So how should you embrace paternity in a way that's practical?

Know what's available to staff

Shared parental leave is now a right and the Government site is a good place to start for need-to-know basics. I would recommend also discussing the issue with both a HR professional and your accountant. The former so that you can ensure you deal with any requests in a way that is lawful as well as supportive. The latter so you can understand what an extended period of leave will mean for your business, both in terms of covering the employee's absence (eg will you need to hire replacement staff or will you have to anticipate an impact on your bottom line due to decreased output?) and the paternity pay you are liable for.

Put the time in now so that you are able to deal with any requests professionally and armed with insight.

Promote your company's policy

Men self-censor, which means many of your male employees will be held back by fears that their commitment and ambition will be questioned. It's up to you to ensure they know you are receptive to requests. Include details of what you offer as standard within the company handbook and ensure women, as well as men, are made aware of the opportunity. This way, we can start eradicate this perception of "women's work" that puts unfair pressure on female talent.

Anticipate requests

Anticipation is important to enable you to forecast potential leave. Knowing a little about a staff member's home life means you can recognise signs they might soon be planning a family and put in steps to ensure a smooth transition.

Furthermore, it's a great way to continue to promote your policy. Take the opportunity to remind potential new dads of what's available at formal reviews and informal catch-ups. The arrival of children often coincides with a critical time in their career. It's important they know parental leave won't impact on their career with you.

Ensure your managers are receptive

The reality is a lot of your managers are parents themselves and will be very understanding. After all, they've been there, done that and know how hard it is to balance a newborn with work.

But there will be a few who are less amenable, either because they don't have children or were not able to benefit when their kids were small.

If managers are not seen as receptive, employees won't ask. And no one wants staff who are either scared of their superiors or resentful because they can't claim what they're eligible for. Make it clear to managers that this is all part of fostering a fantastic culture and lead by example, extending the same courtesy to them.

Encourage staff to plan

I'm not talking about the birds and bees here. If only planning there was that straightforward! Instead, encourage staff to give forethought to a request and come up with a concrete plan of how things might work when they are away.

Consider payment

Staff on parental leave are entitled to statutory pay (£139.58 a week) or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Most companies don't offer financial support above this level. However, if you can, I would. Both for the goodwill it generates and the increased loyalty it will deliver. In my eyes, it's a great investment from which you will be paid dividends.

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