Paternity leave: ‘All of my dad friends were incredibly jealous’

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Piers Fenwick

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Piers Fenwick with his sons Matthew and William

It’s the dream of many dads: being able to spend more time with their children.

For many people, work commitments make it difficult to have as much time as they would like with their growing kids.

And right from the start, pressure on families is not helped if it’s only possible to take a short paternity leave.

But what would it be like if firms let dads take six months paid paternity leave?

‘It was fantastic’

In 2017, Aviva, which at the time was the UK’s largest insurer, started to let all new parents have the same amount of paid leave.

Piers Fenwick, who works for Aviva in Norwich as an analyst on its fraud team, recently took six months off around the birth of his youngest son, William.

“It was just a really great opportunity to help my wife, bond with my new son, and spend time with my eldest,”

“I think my wife quite liked having me around. Fingers crossed,” he says.

Piers is 31, and is married to Kylie Fenwick, 30. They have two children: Matthew, who is two, and William, six months.

“Overall, it was fantastic, and all of my dad friends were incredibly jealous,” he says.

“A lot of them work for companies that just do the statutory two weeks, and they would have to take unpaid or shared parental leave [to get the same amount of time off].”

‘Part of the family’

Piers is one of hundreds of employees at Aviva who have taken advantage of the perk.

In the UK, 496 Aviva employees used the policy in the first 10.5 months – 268 female, and 228 male workers.

Piers says that being able to take the chunk of paid paternity leave didn’t exactly bind him to the firm, but had made him want to give back.

“It really does motivate you in thinking this company cares. It makes you feel part of the family.”

He adds that “it would really take something very special to be a more attractive proposition” in terms of moving to a different employer.

“I really don’t know what it would take to tempt me away.”

Paid leave

While it is not widespread in the UK, two big UK firms this week announced they will be extending paid paternity leave.

On Monday, mobile operator O2 said it will increase its paid paternity leave to 14 weeks for all permanent employees, covering heterosexual and same-sex couples, as well as adoptive and surrogate partners.

And on Wednesday, drinks giant Diageo said its 4,500 employees will be able to get an equal 52 weeks parental leave, with the first 26 weeks fully paid.

Mairéad Nayager, chief HR officer at Diageo said: “True gender equality in the working world requires fundamental changes to a broad range of working practices, including a shake-up of the policies and cultural norms around parental leave.

“Today’s announcement is about matching ambition with action and supporting all of our colleagues – regardless of gender – to experience the joy of raising a young family, while continuing to thrive at work.”

High employment

HR professional body the CIPD said some employers “recognise the need for greater balance when it comes to parenting and are increasing paternity leave and pay as a result”.

Claire McCartney, CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser, said: “Parental leave is a key way of supporting parents in the workplace. It can help them to establish a strong relationship with their children and gives them time to set up childcare systems that work for them going forward.”

Ms McCartney added that firms were increasingly having to compete for employees. In February, UK employment hit another record high.

“With a tight labour market, employers also know they need to stand out from the crowd,” she said.

“Those organisations that offer attractive parental leave and pay policies will be more desirable to working parents who represent a high proportion of the workforce.”

However, a spokesperson for the Institute of Directors said small firms operated under different constraints to large firms.

While many small firms were sympathetic to the needs of parents, and were encouraging flexible working, they were also dealing with other pressures and costs, such as this week’s introduction of the HMRC Making Tax Digital scheme, the spokesperson said.

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