I had been working at an Investment Bank for 7 years when we had our first child in 2016. I would describe the culture in the office as progressive and hardworking. Typical days starting between 6 and 7am and finishing up at 7pm or later. Add to that a one hour commute and it left me little time with our new born through the week. UK Shared Parental Leave (SPL) had come into force in 2015 and my wife and I decided that I would take three of the twelve months SPL and she would return to work.
I was slightly apprehensive at first, as I was one of the first to take shared parental leave at the company (of 5,000 UK employees). But I knew it was my legal right, my boss was supportive and as I spoke to HR I found everyone (including senior management) very encouraging and the bank’s policy very robust (offering up to 6 months fully paid).
From a personal perspective the time off with my son was incredibly rewarding but of course also tough at times. I often get asked (mostly by male colleagues) “which is more difficult work or baby?” Well I don’t think you can compare the two. But for both parents to experience home and work life with a new baby in the family builds greater empathy. I found this perspective really helped our relationship which let’s face it can be tested to the extreme by a crying new born.
Professionally, I kept in touch via email (my choice) and had a good handover plan whilst I was away so everything ran smoothly with the team, clients and colleagues. On returning to work there was the odd “you still work here then” or “I only took two days off with my first and that’s because it was the weekend” but actually I found the vast majority of colleagues and clients hugely supportive.
I have since taken another three months off with my second child and then taken the decision to quit and become a stay at home dad. My wife is returning to work and I am planning to finish writing a book on Climate Change.
I think Shared Parental Leave has worked to its fullest extent for our family. It has allowed both working parents to spend quality time with our young children, helped us to manage our time in and out of the office effectively and is (hopefully) one more small step towards breaking down workplace gender discrimination.
Author: Mathew Hampshire-Waugh
Photo Credit: Mathew Hampshire-Waugh