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Shared parental leave: enhanced pay is key to take-up

Take-up of shared parental leave has been low since its introduction a year ago, with affordability concerns proving a barrier to many eligible employees, new XpertHR research finds.

Offering enhanced shared parental pay has a significant impact on whether or not employees take shared parental leave (see footnotes for more details on shared parental leave and pay).

The XpertHR survey of 397 organisations reveals the following on shared parental leave eligibility and requests over the year to 5 April 2016:

  • 72% of employers said that - to the best of their awareness - some of their employees were eligible to make shared parental leave requests.
  • The median number of eligible employees was four per organisation.
  • 33% of these employers received shared parental leave requests.

Affordability concerns underpin low shared parental leave uptake

Among employers receiving shared parental leave requests between 5 April 2015 and 5 April 2016:

  • 50% reported that only one eligible employee had made a request;
  • 20% had two requests; and
  • 25% had between three and eight requests.

Employers believe that affordability is a key reason for the low uptake of shared parental leave, with few respondents agreeing that shared parental leave is seen as an affordable option by all eligible employees at their organisation.

Employers that enhance shared parental pay are twice as likely to receive a shared parental leave request as those who pay only the statutory rate:

  • 56% of organisations offering enhanced shared parental pay have received a request for shared parental leave.
  • 25% of organisations that do not enhance shared parental pay have received a shared parental leave request.

“Most parents are unable to afford to take shared parental leave,” says one private-sector services respondent. “Shared parental leave only really supports the families who have strong financial backing.”

Shared parental leave fails to boost fathers’ caring roles

A key Government objective of shared parental leave was to “encourage more fathers to play a greater caring role in the first year, via longer, more flexible shared leave.” Only one in 10 employers surveyed by XpertHR agrees or strongly agrees that the new right has been successful in achieving this objective. By contrast, three-fifths disagree or strongly disagree.

But shared parental leave has exceeded expectations in other areas. Where eligible employees did take shared parental leave, the amount taken was greater than that forecast by the Government. Among employers providing data on the amount of shared parental leave taken over the year to 5 April 2016, the median was 12 weeks per employee. Both measures are above the Government’s 2013 estimates that the amount of shared parental leave taken was “unlikely to be the full 18 weeks, more likely one or two weeks.”

Mixed reactions to shared grandparental leave proposals

There is a mixed reaction from employers to Government proposals to extend shared parental leave to grandparents by 2018. Some employers see shared grandparental leave as a progressive new law that makes sense because of the UK’s ageing population. But many more are concerned that take-up will be low and that the new law will be complex to administer. One employer comments: “The shared parental leave system is already too complicated and the uptake is poor. Extending shared parental leave to grandparents will only make the process far more difficult to manage for employers, baffling for employees and an administrative nightmare.”

XpertHR Benchmarking editor Michael Carty said:

"Shared parental leave is a welcome addition to the range of family-friendly options available to working parents. But uptake in the first year has been low, with affordability concerns putting off many eligible parents. When deciding whether or not to offer enhanced shared parental pay, employers should consider the critical role it can play in making shared parental leave attractive to and useful for eligible employees.”