Wednesday 8 May 2019 10:19 am

Harry, Meghan and the case for shared parental leave

While the parents of the new royal baby might be exempt from a traditional nine to five job, it’s no surprise that their first-born child will still have a massive impact on their ability to fulfil royal duties.

A member of the royal family is in a better position than others to spend time with a newborn. However, Harry will be visiting the Netherlands on Thursday to launch the countdown to his beloved Invictus Games.

Getting back to one’s duties only three days after having a child is unusual for any worker, even if they are royal, and it’s interesting that, like his brother William, Harry has publicly opted to take just two weeks of official paternity leave, rather than splitting the time off more equally with Meghan.

For the rest of us, shared parental leave legislation from the government means that parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them within the first year of their child’s birth.

This has been available since 2015, but the take-up has been staggeringly low, with just 9,200 new parents using it – a mere one per cent of those who have been eligible.

Many people don’t take advantage of shared parental leave simply because they can’t afford it – a scenario that doesn’t affect the royals.

The government pays just £145 a week – any more is at the employers’ discretion.

The way in which shared parental leave is currently structured means that it’s unlikely to see a significant rise in popularity any time soon.

Regardless of each parent’s salary, it can be difficult for new parents to account for reduced income, especially with an extra mouth to feed.

Shared Parental Leave has also been held back by a low awareness among workers, so it’s important that employers ensure that their team understands what is available to them.

The thriving gig economy and rising number of contract workers across a range of different sectors can also act as a challenge, as these individuals won’t benefit from any employer support while they are taking time off, and therefore will struggle to get leave at all.

With some companies – from drinks giant Diageo through to O2 and Aviva – taking big steps in the right direction to help balance the parenting scales, it seems that the potential for both parents to spend time with their newborn has never been better.

There are also many ways that employers can help new parents enjoy more of their child’s first year.

While shared parental leave in its current guise might not be feasible for many parents, workers shouldn’t be afraid to speak to their boss about their options.

Having a baby is a life-changing event and maintaining a career alongside this can lead to heightened stress.

It’s important that employers help staff to manage their workload and family responsibilities.

Ultimately, successfully juggling being a new parent and an ongoing workload is about having open conversations with your employer, understanding the financial implications and remembering what matters to you most.

Harry might only be taking two weeks off, but we still don’t know how long Meghan will take for maternity leave and how balanced their approach to parenting will be.

UK businesses should offer their support to new parents in whatever way they can, whether that’s in the form of shared parental leave or flexible working arrangements.

In doing so, UK employers can enjoy the benefits of a focused and diverse workforce.