Telling the truth about SME life today

Why Parental Leave Isn’t the Issue for Young Professionals

parental leave

A recent survey has shown that poor parental leave policies have led to one in five younger workers to quit their job. The survey from Opinium also revealed that 84% of respondents thought that having a child had a negative impact on a person’s career.

At the moment, we’re seeing the so-called ‘big resignation’ as the pandemic has caused many people to re-evaluate their careers and ultimately what they want from life. For SMEs, this creates both risks and opportunities. Whilst keeping talent should obviously be a priority, so too should be attracting new people to the business. As mentioned, the pandemic did create an opportunity for people to re-evaluate their lives and think more about their purpose – this has led in turn to many businesses having to also think about their purpose and to also ensure they’re properly investing in their employees with a focus on mental health and a supportive culture. A proper parental leave policy clearly falls into this category and failing to invest in this aspect can lead to businesses losing valuable talent. However, a family-friendly working culture is arguably much more important as it’s the reality all employees have to live day-to-day.

The Law

Parental leave is a broad term and basically covers the legal right all employees have to take unpaid leave to look after their child until they reach 18 years old. This is normally unpaid and according to Acas, covers a variety of reasons such as simply wanting to spend more time with them, looking after them during school holidays or caring for them when they’re off school sick. This is leave that isn’t typically paid-for by the employer but legally employees can take up to four weeks a year in blocks of time. The employee must have worked for you for a year and have parental responsibility for a child to be entitled to this leave.

As an employer, you can postpone parental leave if it will disrupt the business by up to six months.

Specific maternity and paternity leave is also obviously an important consideration for SMEs too. Legally, you can check the requirements here.

The Reality

For many businesses the reality can be that the policies are offered and the law adhered to, but the culture of the business simply isn’t set-up to support working parents. Presenteeism is prized and those knocking off ‘early’ for the school run are passed over for promotion. Although the pandemic has certainly helped shine the spotlight on the daily juggle so many parents have to perform, particularly with at-home schooling and isolation periods and for some managers this may have helped crystalise the issues facing their working parent employees and encouraged them to be more family friendly. But as the recent Opinium survey reveals, many young employees still fear that having a child could have a negative impact on their career and the possible effects cited were loss of income, slower progression, the cost of childcare, having to take time off and less flexibility.

Although an increase in working from home has certainly helped workforces become more flexible, some businesses’ cultures simply still prize those employees who don’t have pressing family commitments.

What needs to be done?

Building a truly flexible business with a family-friendly culture won’t happen by accident. It’s something that has been a focus for me since establishing my law firm in 2015.  When we set-up we knew culture was something that would be core for us and we’ve worked very hard over the years to ensure we have a close group of staff and lawyers and our family spirit is preserved as we grow. I established the firm with my wife and that has helped, as our team sees the juggle we also have to perform as working parents and the flexible way we work. Creating a cultural norm in a business by setting the example from the top is a good way to begin.

We also have consultants who set their own working hours and we work with clients from across Europe, so the traditional 9am – 5pm has never been the norm for us.

Ultimately though it’s about fostering an open environment where anyone who needs more flexibility in their working day, not just parents, feels empowered to work in a way that best suits them. We’ve found it improves productivity and happily, creates a nicer place to work too. And when it comes to attracting talent, it might not be your specific parental leave policy which turns candidates off but no mention of your culture and what the reality of day-to-day working life is like. This can go a long way in demonstrating your business is a great place to work.




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