Shared Parental Leave: A Dad’s Perspective

All good things must come to an end - and for Carlos, his shared parental leave has just about run its course. As he prepares to return to the office he looks back - but also forward, to how he feels many organisations could achieve a happier and healthier workforce of returning parents.

I've only got two weeks left of my shared parental leave.

I'm not going straight back to work though, because first I have two weeks of annual leave to take - nicely tacked on to the end. You may well know this but, as with maternity leave, when you're on shared parental leave your holiday entitlement continues to accrue.

Being There for Key Moments

It seems like no time at all since I started my six months' leave, although when I look back to how my leave began - with the kitchen ceiling falling in - there's no doubt a lot has happened. That wasn't the ideal start, but it doesn't really matter. I've been able to be there to see my daughter grow right in front of my eyes. She's almost walking, almost talking, and clearly has a personality of her own. She begins her settling-in days at nursery in a couple of weeks, just prior to me starting back at work.

Apart from things I couldn't control, like the weather, things have gone very well. I feel really grateful that I've had the chance to spend so much quality time with our daughter. I've no doubt that it has helped us to bond in a way that will hopefully endure once I return to work. I am looking forward to going back and resuming my career, but I also feel sad that I won't be able to spend as much time with her.

Preparation is Key

With my return to work in mind, I'm very hopeful that this time around, with my second child and second experience of shared parental leave, returning won't involve teetering along a cliff edge as it was the first-time.

This time around I've used some KIT (Keeping In Touch) days to stay in contact with colleagues - yet ironically, just like last time I was off, there have been some big changes at work and yet another departmental restructure. It was a bit of a shock last time, but at least this time I am aware of it in advance and know where I'll be going and what team I'll be returning to. Of course, there's no sure way of knowing exactly how things will play out when I do return, but I do feel much more prepared. I actually have one more meeting with my manager before I go back and, as far as I'm concerned, it's as much for him as for me. I need to make sure that he - and the company - are fully prepared for my return.

Embracing Part-time Working

Having almost now finished this second spell of shared parental leave, I do think that despite an increased focus on health and wellbeing within many workplaces - it's certainly very much in vogue - that it may still be tokenism in some cases.

Having some pot plants in the office, exercise classes that I can attend, or being encouraged to take a walk during my lunch break, are probably helpful to some, but my own wellbeing has been increased more by working a shorter week, than in any other way. Without a doubt, the biggest health and motivational boost I've got and appreciated is having the flexibility to spend more time with my family. This is why, as happened after my first period of leave, I'll be returning three days a week (in other words, 0.6 FTE). I feel this worked well before and offers a decent work/life balance.

Quality Family Time

That's for the here and now. For my wife and I, the longer-term hope is that once both our children start school we will both be able to work term-time only. This would mean no childcare costs and we'd both get the chance to keep the quality family time we're enjoying in these preschool times.

It's a little way off though, a good few years away. By then, and not just for my sake but for everyone who is juggling work and family, I'm hopeful that the stigma about part-time working will have reduced even further. I certainly don't know of any male colleagues who work part-time but it's a common working pattern with my female colleagues. I'd like to think there'd be no reason for my request to be refused, but I'll not take anything for granted at this stage.

A Change In Work Culture

I don't know what lies ahead, but having now been through the process twice, I'd love to see a change in work culture that makes it okay, particularly for men, to take more leave than they typically do when children are born or adopted and for it to be seen as normal to return at less than full-time. Not only do I feel this would result in a far healthier and happier workforce, I think it would make for a healthier and happier society too.