Parental leave: what do employers worry about?

Written by
Cecilia Crossley

17 Mar 2016

17 Mar 2016 • by Cecilia Crossley

More babies are now born to women 35 or older than under 25. 

How does current data about parental leave impact employers?

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, in 2014 newborns to mothers aged at least 35 accounted for 21% of births in England and Wales, compared with 20% to women under 25. The data also shows that two-thirds of babies had fathers aged 30 or over.

What this means for employers is that, at the time of taking parental leave, their staff are more likely to be in managerial and senior positions than in the past. Employees in their late 30s are likely to be very valuable to the employer, they have probably received training, been invested in, managing teams and running significant parts of a business.


What questions might arise?

Considering this trend, coupled with the legislation on shared parental-leave and the adapting culture, what do employers worry about when staff go on leave, and what might they do to alleviate concerns?

Speaking to industry professionals to discuss what’s on their mind, the key worry was communication; uncertainty as to what to say, what employers are allowed to say, and when to say it.

This is particularly the case for line managers, who may be uncertain of what to do. Line managers know that this is an area governed by legislation and that can be sensitive, and this may cause them to say little, for fear of getting it wrong. 

Questions arise such as:

•  Is my team member going to take leave and not come back, how am I going to cover that role?

•  Is this an opportunity to change things around, but am I allowed to?

•  When my team member is back, are they going to want flexible terms? Can I accommodate, am I able to say no? Will it set a precedent and the whole team will then be asking for the same arrangements?

•  How is parental leave going to affect the person? Are they still going to be interested in their career? Should I talk to them about that? Should I call them while they’re on leave?

Ensuring your talent wants to return

Left un-discussed these uncertainties can be critical factor in an employee’s choice about returning to work. As Clair Hodgson, EMEA lead, facilitator and coach at How Do You Do It explained “there is a lot of pressure on employers to get it right, but getting it right can be tricky. The line manager’s overarching worry is likely to be, is leave going to change my team member, and therefore how I work with them? Supporting a line manager through the journey is likely to result in much more effective management of any change”.

From an organisational perspective, policies can be established to create a culture of informed and open communication. As the implementers of policy, line managers need to be supported, so that they may support their staff. If the line managers are confident in understanding organisational policy and culture and their authority to apply it, they may be more likely to have open conversations with the employee, before, during and after parental leave, at a frequency that is right for that relationship. In turn, the uncertainties, worries, and the changes they can lead to, can be dealt with more effectively, resulting in higher retention. 

With more experienced staff taking parental leave than ever before, the cost of recruiting and training a replacement should they not return, is growing. Therefore the business case to support staff taking leave, to tangibly demonstrate the employers’ culture and the value it places on working parents, and for supporting line managers to manage change, is increasingly clear.