Why equal leave for mothers and fathers is vital for employee wellbeing

shared parental leave, mum, dad, family

By Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder of JourneyHR

Diageo’s recent announcement that it will offer both men and women 52 weeks’ maternity and paternity leave with the first 26 weeks fully paid is a major milestone for equality.

The company’s new policy shows that regardless of size or FTSE 100 ranking, all companies should strive to build a fairer, more level playing field for their staff.

By offering male employees the opportunity to take the same amount of paternity leave as their female co-workers, Diageo is also likely to reap the rewards of a happier, more productive and loyal workforce – something that all businesses should be seeking to replicate.

Boosting employee wellbeing

For parents, being part of a child’s development of is hugely important, but many have to sacrifice this vital bonding experience because of work. Research by University College London found that less than only eight per cent of expectant parents planned to take advantage of shared parental leave, suggesting that without enhancing maternity and paternity leave pay or making major changes to working practices, the lion’s share of leave will continue to fall to the woman.

By shaking up cultural norms and supporting more men in their desire to spend those first few precious months with their new baby, businesses will not only encourage a greater work-life balance for fathers, but also will help more women to achieve their professional goals too. Whether they are mums, dads or couples, offering employees equal paid maternity and paternity leave without financial pressure or gender stereotypes will ultimately have a positive impact on their bonding experience with their child.

Beyond the moral aspect of doing the right thing and caring for employees, there’s a strong business case for building a company that’s committed to staff wellbeing. When staff feel listened to and supported, they feel more valued. Being encouraged to spend time with their children will therefore make employees more motivated, focused and better able to juggle their work and personal commitments on their return to work. What’s more, they will feel more engaged and loyal from knowing they have the support of the company behind them.

Juggling the impact of equally paid maternity and paternity leave

Some businesses might worry that offering equal maternity and paternity paid leave will impact the business, from both a financial and productivity perspective. However, if companies establish this benefit across the business as ‘standard’, it becomes much easier to plan around and offset the impact of extended absence. For example, managers will know in advance when an employee – male or female – will be going on leave and can make arrangements for their absence.

Employers should view equal maternity and paternity paid as an opportunity for the business; in some cases, it can give a junior team member the chance to step up and take on more responsibility, and in others it can allow the business to employ freelancers and part-timers who bring a fresh perspective and energy to the team.

It’s also important to ensure that parents are properly supported on their return to work. A recent survey of working parents found a staggering 75 per cent suffer stress and anxiety as a result of their work-life balance management, with over half of respondents admitting to feeling judged by managers and colleagues.

It’s vital that any policies in this area fully support new working parents, with benefits such as return to work coaching, flexible working practices, keeping in touch days and access to employee assistance programmes. All too often, coming back to work after a long absence can be a daunting prospect, so making sure there is a proper hand-back, opportunities to pick up certain tasks, and a welcoming, supportive environment is essential.

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