I’ve written a huge amount about shared parental leave over the years. I had long planned to ask someone to write something for me about their experience of taking the leave. As luck would have it, I was contacted out of the blue by Hamish Reid who works for Accenture.
Hamish is about to go on shared parental leave for the second time. He wrote the article below in which he admits he had concerns about the impact on his career, goes on to say that being a stay at home dad for five months was very demanding but says attitudes to SPL are changing for the better. Here’s what he had to say.
This Father’s Day will be my last one as a dad of two, as in September my wife and I are expecting our third child and first boy. Along with the normal excitement and nervousness that comes with expecting another baby, I am in the process of finalising plans to take advantage for the second time of the shared parental leave (SPL) that my company, Accenture, offers (Editor’s note: shared parental leave is a legal right offered to most employees but Accenture offers an enhanced benefits package, which some employers choose to provide).
It wasn’t an easy decision to take the leave before the birth of our second daughter in 2015. Both my wife and I had concerns about the impact it could have on my career, while the cultural taboo around men staying home to look after babies still lingers.
However, the wonderful memories I have from that period will stay with me forever, and this time round the decision was more straightforward. Taking the time out actually ended up accelerating my career in the long run, and I believe that experience made me a better colleague, husband and father. I had no doubt I would want to take shared parental leave again if the opportunity arose.
Attitudes to shared parental leave have certainly changed, not just with my employer but externally as well. The first time around, I was the exception and the idea of taking time out to look after a baby in the same way my wife took maternity leave seemed pretty radical. But, three years after its introduction many more people are familiar with the concept and everyone I speak to at Accenture agrees it’s one of the best employee benefits we offer.
Many colleagues and friends have come to me for advice and guidance when planning their own leave, and have had a similarly positive experience of taking it. I’ve always championed and talked openly about SPL, but as the programme has become more commonplace at our company, others are extolling the benefits too and it’s now widely accepted as a great opportunity for new parents. However, friends who work elsewhere are surprised at how popular our programme is, so I’m conscious that there is still some work to be done to make it a viable option for families and to normalise the idea of fathers taking time out of the workplace to care for children.
Having the opportunity to share more responsibilities for looking after children really put into perspective how challenging it can be to be a full-time parent – both physically and emotionally. So, I’m really grateful that I can be there at home with my wife for the crucial formative months of our son’s life. Taking the leave for the first time gave me a completely different perspective on parenting in general – being in the office is the holiday now!
Another thing which is very important to me is allowing my wife time to get her own career back on track – she is a part time Pilates and Physiotherapy Practitioner, but this has had to take a back seat over the last few years. Being a stay-at-home dad for a period will enable her to return to something she enjoys, so SPL offers an opportunity for us both to find personal and professional fulfilment.
I’m sure there are still misconceptions around taking SPL, as people may still think the time off could hinder their career, but last time I took leave it turned out to be a huge part of my professional development. I’m not complacent though – consulting is a competitive environment so when I come back I’ll need to quickly get back up to speed. However, I know Accenture will support me on my return to work, and I hope to come back with a renewed sense of perspective as I did the first time round.
For now though, I’m looking forward to spending time with my girls and meeting the new baby.