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Considering taking shared parental leave?

29 Jan 2020

Graham Hall, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, shares his experience of taking shared parental leave

Why did you choose to take shared parental leave?

My partner and I took shared parental leave in 2019 when we had our second child. We didn’t take shared leave last time for a couple of reasons – we didn’t fully realise what was available in terms of shared leave the first time around but also we were more conscious about our work as we were both earlier on in our academic careers [Graham’s partner is a Lecturer at another university]. After having our first child, we knew we wanted to take shared parental leave for our second child – and in hindsight, we wish we would have with our first as well.

The main motivation for taking shared leave this time is that we both wanted to spend more time with our baby and with our first born as well so that he felt settled with the new baby. It has worked really well as our son is more connected with the baby. Having the time off has helped with getting to grips with balancing two children and we really enjoyed having the time all together while the children are very young. Taking shared parental leave at this time also felt like a good option for me as I feel more secure in my position at work and felt that my work would not be negatively affected by having this time off with my family.

When did you start your leave and how did you share it with your partner?

I started my leave at the end of February when our daughter was born. We had some help from my in-laws for two weeks as well. I then came back to work for two weeks to tie up some loose ends, then took 16 weeks off. I took this amount of time off as it meant that my partner could still take a reasonable amount of time off as well; she was off until the start of December. There were lots of options to consider which would have given us different amounts of pay and time off and this was the best option for us. We chose to have our time off at the same time, rather than stagger the leave, which has meant that we are both now back at work and both children are in nursery.

How did you find your workload before you started your leave?

Before I finished to start my leave, I felt quite overloaded with teaching responsibilities. Fortunately, I had the support of my research group lead and Head of School [now Department] and a new member of staff was brought in who took quite a lot of my teaching load off of me. By the time it came to taking my parental leave, I had a smaller amount of teaching and modules to arrange cover for. Some of this workload was covered by a Research Fellow who wanted to gain teaching experience. Another unit was covered by a Research Associate who took the lead on the day-to-day running of the unit, with supervision from a Professor.

Arranging cover for my workload was tricky at points due to the commitments my colleagues already had but it all worked out well in the end – less experienced colleagues were able to gain experience in teaching and running course units and the School helped where there were challenges with finding cover.

And how was your workload when you returned?

As a result of the Workload Allocation Model and additional funding within the research group from a new group project, the Lecturer who initially took on some of my teaching responsibilities is still in post so I have not picked these back up but have had the opportunity to settle back into work instead. Because of the timing of my return to work in June, I haven’t had any project students to supervise and I didn’t have any teaching in semester 1. This has really helped with giving me time to get back into work. I have had more time to focus on submitting a research project proposal which has led to £700,000 of grant funding for the group. I have also had time to help run a recent CPD course and to prepare for lecturing in semester 2. My phased return in terms of workload wasn’t necessarily planned but it has worked out this way and having a manageable workload has really helped. I also work closely with my line manager and feel that I have been well supported by her as she also has two young children.

Did you work at all during your leave?

During my time off, I intermittently checked emails but was predominantly offline. I told my research group they could contact if something was urgent but this didn’t happen. I have a really supportive group as a number of them also have children.

What would be your advice to colleagues who are expecting a baby and are starting to plan their time off work?

Shared parental leave is definitely something my partner and I would do again if we were to have any more children as it’s worth it to spend the time with our children when they are young. It can be complicated trying to work out the implications on the work, leave and pay of both partners as each workplace has different policies – Manchester’s parental leave allowances are very good!

My advice would be to speak to HR sooner rather than later. HR can help to work out what both partners are entitled to in terms of time and pay, so you can then make an informed decision. By starting these discussions early on, you’ll have more time to consider the different options and make the best decision. HR were really helpful from the technical side as there were lots of different forms to complete once we had decided on how my partner and I would split the leave.

I think there is still some concern over taking extended periods of time off work, especially amongst younger academics. For me, this concern is understandable but is overshadowed by the importance of spending time with your young family. Shared parental leave is a great option and I think we need to do more to raise awareness about it. I’m more than happy to speak to colleagues if they have any questions about taking shared parental leave.

Find out more:

Have a question for Graham? Send Graham an email

Shared parental leave information on Staffnet

University shared parental leave policy