Traditionally, taking time off to look after a new-born has only been available to mothers. Now, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) allows most couples who are in paid work to both take time with their baby. Furthermore, this leave does not have to be taken all in one go but in blocks throughout the year.
In a time of blurring gender roles and technology permitting a more fluid working structure, it makes sense that a family can carve up the first year with their child to suit the needs of their baby, their career and themselves personally. Despite all this, only 5% of men and 8% of women in the workplace have opted for shared leave. This made me question whether SPL actually over-promised but under-delivered. With this in mind, I was nervous about becoming the first person at Lansons to try it.
I am happy to report that SPL has been a success. I returned to work for one month whilst my husband, David, took the leave to become a full-time dad to 7 month old Jude. After the month I returned back to maternity leave and my husband to his job at Google.
For all those eligible or considering it, here are some of the reasons why it has worked for us and how to make it work for you.
- We were willing to try something new. By ‘we’ I mean David, Google, Lansons, Jude and me. Funny as it sounds, ‘we’ suddenly became a unit that had to work together to create a new way of doing things. Lansons and Google had to speak to each other. David was emailing Lansons HR. Jude joined my pre-return work meetings. We all worked hard, embraced the change and enjoyed the process. We couldn’t have made it work without Lansons enthusiastically volunteering to trial Shared Parental Leave. So if your company has never done it before, work together and anything is possible.
- We were clear about the projects that I would work on. The new ‘we’ pops up here again (and in every other point below!). I agreed clear projects I wanted to run before I returned to Lansons so the company was clear on objectives and what could be achieved in a month. David and I also clearly set out a realistic expectation of what I could achieve before I left the house (5 minute shower, get Jude up and changed, give him to David to feed whilst I get ready, play with Jude whilst David gets ready, run to catch the train. Given the fact that David used to make me breakfast every morning before he left for work, I felt that I had a pretty good deal here!).
- We all met before I returned. I came into work the week before I returned, to meet with a few people about said projects. This also meant I got to see everyone, catch up on Lansons news and get my feet back on the working ground prior to my homecoming! Jude and David also popped in, allowing them to connect with my work and understand my priorities for the month to come.
- We embraced the change. David and I agreed that we would fully embrace our new roles. David set expectations with work that he would not be answering emails. I met with everyone that I possibly could; Lansons teams, clients, potential partners. Lansons also embraced my short-term return with open arms, meaning that I was leading on brainstorms and new business activity within my first week. From a family perspective, we gave each other the freedom to try new things. This meant that I would come home to Jude’s room completely changed, new games being played and new (pretty inventive) food being eaten. I speak for Jude here since he can’t string a sentence together just yet, but I do believe that he has benefited from a new way of doing things.
- We all used the time to prepare ourselves for the future. Returning to work after maternity leave can be daunting. This month meant that ‘we’ could experiment with how I could develop my career. I spent time with team members talking positively about my role for when I return full-time. HR helped me understand how my working week could function so I could get back for Jude’s bedtime. David and I got to grips with train times, reacting to Jude being ill when I was in the office and how to share basic baby duties. Dipping our toe into this meant that we learnt a lot but also realised that the future isn’t as daunting as you can build it up to be.
‘We’ made Shared Leave work as we understood that life does not have to be linear; that you can embrace new ways of working that can benefit everyone. I am now back on maternity leave with a revived passion for child-care and my return to work later in the year. So thank you Lansons for taking the leap; I hope that it works for everyone keen to do the same.