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Posted August 14 2017

Maternity/Paternity/Return to Work

The UK are pretty far down the chain in terms of new-parent benefits and time off. Whilst we seem to acknowledge, appreciate and encourage parents with their desire to actually spend time with their offspring, most companies don’t make it that easy. That, paired with the extortionate rate of childcare, often has parents pondering if returning to work is financially feasible, whether or not they’re chomping at the bit to get back to adult life.

There have been some notable changes of late though; the idea of shared parental leave, for example. This is the idea that companies allow the parents to share the leave – usually circa one year – between them. So, in a heterosexual partnership a mother could take 6 months off and the father could do the same.

In Europe, some countries, like Sweden and Norway, offer a collective amount of paid parental leave but it is only paid if the burden is evenly shared between the couple. No-one gets away with dodging nappies and night feeds across the pond! Rest assured, our policy of two weeks paid for men with additional time allowed (but taken off the mother’s allocation) isn’t the worst in the EU. France are the stingiest with only 11 days paid in total. On the flipside, private corporations can offer impressive deals – Netflix allow one year fully paid for either parent. Nappies and chill, indeed.

Of course, after the fun and games of birth, getting used to being wholeheartedly accountable for keeping another human alive, reduced sleep, talking mainly in baby terminology and being constantly on sniper-style lookout, there is the very vivid process of returning to work awaiting each parent. Even with government schemes set to help spread the cost by providing free childcare (apparently underfunding has made this promise a very unlikely scenario for many regions) the reality of this can seem overwhelming and like organising a military operation – who will drop off/pick up/what about staying late/train delays etc. Many of the stresses are out of one’s control, but a handful of businesses are now providing childcare on site or partnering with nearby creches to allow subsidised day-care for workers.

This is all very well, but what if you are self employed? Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of help on offer other than ‘plan ahead’, which is basically the advice your parents gave you when you were a teenager. We didn’t listen then and we probably won’t listen now, although more depends on it this time round. The silver lining with self employment is the going back to work situation has the potential to be flexible. The popularity of co-working and collaborative office space has excelled and some have on-site flexible childcare options. Famalam/Impact Hub in Birmingham are trialling a pop-up creche one day a week and are looking to extend if this proves popular (it will) and Third Door in South London have a full time, flexible nursery that sits beneath hot-desking and meeting space for parents upstairs.

Essentially, all of the above is interesting but if it doesn’t help, what is the point of reading this? This is a whistle-stop comparison and insight to the current state of affairs and the good news is more offices are gearing up to help with family arrangements, although ultimately the statutory limitations are still very much in place for the majority. What was once deemed ‘normal’ is a distant memory now gender equality is slowly catching up regarding parental roles, and this is excellent to witness, but we need the corporate world to give us a hand too so they get the most of their staff and keep them content.