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Civil Service

Shared parental leave experiences

Head shot of Rupert McNeil
Rupert McNeil, Civil Service Chief People Officer

This week, the Government launches a campaign to encourage more parents to consider taking . This way of sharing time off to look after children has now been available for nearly three years and more people are now applying, many of them men. Encouraging participation forms an important part of our commitment to Civil Service .

Marking the start of this campaign enables me to celebrate a way in which parents’ lives are being improved by new opportunities to see more of their children. I hope it will encourage more parents to consider it as an option. Look out for the ads on transport and at the roadside as well as on social media.

Shared parental leave gives parents a real opportunity to enjoy the early months of childhood. It can be taken when a baby is born but also when parents adopt a child or have a baby through surrogacy. It is a legal right and enables parents to swap some of their maternity or adoption leave and to take the rest more flexibly and as a couple. The Civil Service goes beyond the statutory minimum provision and offers an occupational rate of pay for some of this leave.

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'Shared parental leave can be complicated to understand. As part of the campaign, BEIS will be refreshing some of their guidance. Here in the Civil Service, we are planning to launch some new booklets to make the scheme easier to understand. Have a look at your intranet site and on GOV.UK and talk to Shared Services or HR about your options.

Here are the experiences of some civil servants who have taken shared parental leave.

Kate and Dominic...

Man and woman with young children with sea in background
Kate, Dominic and family

...took shared parental leave when their daughter, Abigail, was born. At the time, Kate worked for the Department for Education. She took 6 months off and then Dominic took 4 months off. They both took annual leave around the handover point and so had 6 weeks together as a family. This meant that Dominic was at home for the first half-term after their older child, Holly, started school. 

Kate says shared parental leave:

"...was a really good way for my husband to bond with both our children whilst maintaining momentum in our careers. It enabled us to approach parenting as an equal and shared endeavour. It also contributed to our flexing and adapting our working patterns since then. There have been times since when I have worked full-time and my partner has worked part-time and vice versa. Dominic is now a freelance communications consultant and I work part-time, so we have maintained that flexibility.

Andy and Emma...

Man with baby
Andy and his son Tom

...took SPL to look after their son, Tom. Andy works for the Cabinet Office and Emma for the NHS.

Andy took 8 weeks shared parental leave combined with 2 weeks paternity leave and 2 weeks annual leave – 12 weeks off in total. He started this from the day Tom was born and took it alongside Emma's maternity leave, so they were off together for the first 3 months.   

Andy says:

"As Tom was our first child, it was a really good opportunity for Emma and me to spend 3 months together while we learnt the ropes of parenting. As everyone who has ever been a parent knows, those first few weeks are exhausting. Being at home and able to support each other just about kept our sanity intact. It was also great to be able to bond properly with Tom for those first few months.

"Now I'm back at work, I appreciate the benefit of that even more. I do miss not spending as much time with him during the day; particularly as he's often started his pre-bedtime grumpy period by the time I get home now, so doesn't always seem too pleased to see me!. When I did come back to work, I felt far more ready to juggle the demands of my job and being a dad. I'd have found it much harder if I'd had to do it after only 2 weeks’ paternity leave."

 Tom and Christina...

Father and baby son by Tower Bridge
Tom and Joshua

...took shared parental leave to look after their son, Joshua. Tom works for the Ministry of Justice and Christina for a leading professional services firm.

Tom took 6 months shared parental leave in a single chunk, from month 5 to month 11, with a month of annual leave, making 7 months off in total. Christina went back to work at month 6 – so they overlapped for a month. Tom says this “was great and enabled me to learn the ropes!”

He continues:

"I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being on shared parental leave and loved spending so much time with my son. It enabled me to develop a really strong bond with him and be there for some of the most memorable moments in his first year.

"That said it was definitely much harder work than I expected and it gave me a new-found respect for parents looking after children on their own – sometimes, just leaving the flat on time was a significant victory! My wife really enjoys her job and was happy to return to work after 6 months. We both very much think that raising our children should be a joint endeavour, so it seemed like a natural decision for us to split the time down the middle.

"Taking SPL will definitely make me a better line manager, as I’ll have a much better understanding of what it means to take time off to have children and what caring responsibilities mean for my team members. In terms of benefits to my department, having a generous shared parental leave policy will undoubtedly help demonstrate that they are modern and flexible employers and help them to attract and retain talented people."

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  1. Comment by Hugh posted on

    Revising the guidance should be a priority. The entitlement is quite straightforward, but the guidance confuses the matter rather than helping. I found our HR team couldn't help either and I had to explain it to them!
    That said having just returned from 7 weeks Shared Parental Leave, I'd recommend it to all prospective parents. Its a great opportunity and shouldn't be missed. It also sends an important message and example to the rest of the community about equality and diversity.

  2. Comment by Tracey posted on

    I think shared parental leave is a huge leap forward and, if more people take it up, will make a real difference for gender equality.

    One thing I would love to know is how well it works in conjuction with the ambition to increase the number of women continuing to breastfeed in the UK? I know that if I'd gone back to work within the first 9 months after having my child, we may well have had to compromise on continuing to feed (or else I'd have spent a good deal of time expressing milk at work).

    I'm curious to know if families have managed to maintain breastfeeding once the mother has gone back to work if the baby is still little, or has this proved unrealistic in many cases?

    • Replies to Tracey>

      Comment by Sunny posted on

      Returning to work should be no obstacle to breastfeeding, I had to return full time when my daughter was 6.5 months old and I took up my right to breaks and a private room to express. Approx 20 minutes in the mid morning, again on my lunch break, and 20mins again in the afternoon, as I had a pretty long commute and didn't want to leave it more than 3h between. I eventually tapered down to two and then one milk break as my daughter was one year old, and we surpassed the WHO target of breastfeeding for at least two years. So with determination it can be done.

      Departments need to publish robust guidance on allowing women time and space to express milk, without loss of flexi or pay, and at times to fit around the woman's needs rather than what is most convenient to the business (as it's supply and demand based, and to delay expressing to fit the work schedule could impair supply, it's therefore a health and safety issue for both the mum (potential mastitis) and baby (insufficient milk).

      This can all be captured in a "new and expectant mothers risk assessment".

      As a union rep I have negotiated these breaks for myself and other mums, and also convinced one of our sites who were planning on getting rid of their first aid room during a refurbishment, that it needs to be kept available for nursing mothers.

  3. Comment by Martin Forker posted on

    I took two spells of shared parental leave last year. 2 months immediately when my daughter was born, and a further 4 months when she was 7 months old as my wife went back to work (outside of the Civil Service). I found this arrangement absolutely fantastic and would recommend it to any prospective parents. Taking the first spell meant that I got to know my daughter at the same time as her mother did, so it never subsequently felt like I was “babysitting” or “giving mum a hand” when I spent time with her. The second spell felt like I was really involved in doing my share, of both the good times and the hard work. I took her swimming, to various baby groups and spent time with the grandparents, as well as the nappies, sleepless nights and weaning. An added bonus was that neither my wife nor I were off work for a really long period so it didn't feel like quite such a challenge to get back to work as it might have if one of us were off for 12+ months.

    I welcome the news that there is revised guidance and communications on the way. Although the entitlement to shared leave is fairly clear, I found the policy, guidance and paperwork regarding the entitlement to occupational/statutory pay to be very confusing, which made it quite difficult to evaluate what was best for us as a family. I feel that the existing policy is good, but it could be really great with just a little more flexibility on how the occupational pay can be taken.

  4. Comment by Kelvin Jay-Jones posted on

    I have just returned to work after 5 months of having SPL.

    As my wife is self employed it was the best opportunity for our family, that she went back to work and I had the time off to look after our new born daughter.

    I underestimated how difficult it was going to be but soon found a routine that worked ( that had to soon change as the little one changed). You could say it was a constantly evolving routine.

    It was a challenging but rewarding 5 months that I know has created a bond between myself and my daughter that too few fathers get to experience with their child.

    Being back at work has been a new challenge especially after a night of disruptions, but I am quickly finding my feet and I am surprised I can remember passwords!

    If it suits your situation to have SPL, I would always recommend taking it.

  5. Comment by Tim Clarke posted on

    I shared the parental leave with my wife when our second child was born. It was great to have 8 weeks with Thomas while my wife went back to work to feel like an adult again. She appreciated being involved in work projects that she wouldn't have otherwise been able to and I enjoyed spending time with the baby.

  6. Comment by Jon posted on

    Great article. I took four weeks of shared parental leave (plus some annual leave) around the time my son was 5 months old, alongside my wife, so that we got around 6 weeks together as a family. We used that to travel to the USA to visit my wife's family, most of whom got to meet him for the first time (and wouldn't have been possible if I didn't get the time off).

    It was a fantastic time with my family and I really missed my son in the weeks after going back to work. Though I wouldn't recommend choosing to deal with a jetlagged infant!

  7. Comment by Mark Bradley posted on

    After our first child was born, I took 6 months parental leave. He was born in October and my wife had to go straight back to after giving birth as she runs a business from home and we couldn't afford to lose her Christmas takings. I feel so lucky that this option was available to me - I got to spend time with & bond with our son in a way that a lot of fathers couldn't. I can't recommend taking shared parental leave enough to any fathers.