As more and more parents seek to balance their professional and family responsibilities; we are seeing a shift in the landscape of family leave. Shared parental leave is becoming an increasingly popular option in the UK. At Featurespace, we fully support and encourage shared parental leave which allows mothers and fathers to share time off work following the birth or adoption of a child, providing greater flexibility and support for families. In this article, we share two stories of how two team members at Featurespace have used different family leave benefits and how this has impacted their professional and personal life.

My first family bonding experience

I decided to take Shared Parental Leave when my son, Freddie, was born because I really wanted to spend some time as a family. As a relatively new concept, it wasn’t something I was very familiar with, and I don’t think everyone’s aware that it exists. Overall, I took 2 months off when he was born, and I have a 3rd month planned for the middle of next year.

I first really heard about Shared Parental Leave from my wife – one of her colleagues really wanted to get back to work for their mental health and so her partner took Shared Parental Leave instead of the more traditional Maternity Leave. We spoke to a few friends about the idea, although the majority of the research we did was using the government website.

Whilst Shared Parental Leave is fairly new, and there wasn’t a lot of knowledge of it within Featurespace, I found planning for it to be pretty easy – I had about 6-7 months of knowing roughly when I expected to be out for a couple of months. That made it quite easy to define handovers for most of my role and prepare people on what I needed them to pick up with a month or so to spare. A key part of my cover plan was Colville, who was new to Featurespace, so we’d discussed my leave from his initial onboarding, and tailored his training to be ready to jump in at the deep end. As babies appear when they want, I made sure all of my recurring meeting were forwarded to delegates 3 weeks before my due date, and I sent my handover plan to the people across Featurespace that I most often interact with. Having prepared everything ahead of the due date, the biggest challenge for me was when we got to week 2 after the due date with no signs of a baby and I knew I couldn’t really pick up any tasks that couldn’t be completed within a couple of hours. That week was also quite difficult to focus!

Initially, I thought that I would have loads of “me time” in those two months – plenty of time to get fit and sort out all those jobs I’ve not got around to. That didn’t happen, but I found the time incredibly rewarding.

In the first few weeks, my wife really valued the support I was able to provide. We had several appointments with midwives/paediatricians/health visitors that kept us busy and some early feeding challenges that were making my wife very tired. Having someone else able to cook, drive between places and entertain the baby was a huge help for her.

Across the two months, I really got a chance to bond with Freddie and spend time with him, seeing and helping him develop. We started doing a lot of tummy time early on, and we got through to him smiling before I returned to work. Spending several hours a day together really gave me an opportunity to see those new skills as they developed.

We had a wedding to take Freddie to at 3 weeks old, so we also used the time to get him used to busy places – taking him out to cafes in the day and out for walks at National Trust properties. As well as giving us quality time together, I feel like that really helped to socialise Freddie and make him comfortable around people. He seems to be a lot more extroverted than me or my wife and he loves sitting up and chatting away to everyone!

The one warning I’d provide is financial planning – my wife went down to statutory maternity pay whilst I was on shared parental pay, and it is a bit of a shock when that happens! I started planning for my shared leave from early in the pregnancy to make sure this was manageable, and I’d recommend thinking this through as early as possible – the government has a helpful planner for this!

Within work, the team coped brilliantly – I think distributing meetings across 3 people avoided any one person being too overburdened. I also asked a couple of my peers to provide support if they needed it so those covering for me didn’t feel overwhelmed. The people covering for me also informed me that liked being exposed to work they don’t usually get to do and enjoyed some of the forums they became part of. I believe that this has been really beneficial for me longer term as it forced me to delegate more responsibility, meaning I could return and redistribute some of my responsibilities to allow me to focus on tasks that need my expertise, it also gave others confidence that we’ve got strength in depth in case I’m ever unavailable.

Now I’ve settled back into work, Freddie and I are finding other ways to spend quality time together, especially in baby swimming classes. I’m really looking forward to my next block off – we’re hoping to use it to take Freddie on holiday before he starts nursery and my wife goes back to work.

I’d encourage people to consider taking Shared Parental Leave – it’s a great way to get more involved with your child’s early development and to support your partner. I’m happy to have a chat with anyone who has any questions.

Martyn Higson, Head of Implementation

Addressing the work life balance through my maternity leave journey

I found out I was pregnant with my second baby at the end of 2020, when the world was still a bit upside down and inside out as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It meant it was a very easy secret to keep as we were working from home and had our team Christmas social on zoom, thank you Nozecco 😉

When the time came to share the news, the team couldn’t have been more excited for me and followed my lead in terms of planning for my maternity leave. At the time, I had the flexibility to come into the office as regularly as I felt comfortable with and was thoroughly supported through my many appointments.

I was heavily involved in the recruitment process for someone to cover my role whilst I was away and felt empowered to handover my responsibilities in the way I saw best. When the time came to go on maternity leave, I felt really content with the plan in place and the way everything had been handled, with the reassurance that the team would keep me in the loop with anything I needed to know, at my request of course!

Once I’d had my little boy, the team were excited for me to come and bring him into the office to meet everyone, it was great to catch up and still feel a valued member of the team, even if I had other priorities to keep me busy for a while. Featurespace sent me a gorgeous hamper with some treats for me and the baby and it felt great to feel celebrated in this way.

Whilst I was on leave, the company maternity policy was reviewed, becoming more generous and increasing the fully paid leave to 16 weeks followed by 13 weeks of half pay and the remaining statutory entitlement. My manager informed me of this change, which I was obviously over the moon with! I feel this is a fantastic step in attracting and supporting working mother’s in the business, as the working world continues to evolve towards it becoming more of a societal norm for both parents to be working or women being the main earner in a household.

As the weeks and months rolled by, I always felt included with the team, I was invited (but not expected!) to attend team events and key company-wide virtual meetings, which I dipped in and out of when it suited me.

Even though I had intended to take 12 months off before phasing back into work, I quickly realised that actually, for me and for my mental health, I really missed working and decided to have a chat with my manager about the possibility of returning early. She was supportive and really took the time to listen when we spoke, I felt she really understood my reasons for wanting to make the change.

Having thought about how this might work, I suggested that at the six-month mark, I use my 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days, to work one day a week, this allowed me to start getting myself back into the swing of working but at a slower pace. After this I used my accrued holiday to facilitate me increasing those days to two days per week, which I then did for 3 months, before submitting my flexible working request to work 4 days a week from my original planned return date.

This approach was really beneficial to me as it allowed me to slowly introduce my little boy to childcare and get him settled, whilst I got back into the rhythm of work. It also allowed me to take on my responsibilities gradually, so by the time I was back 4 days, I had a really good grip of what was going on and could tackle things head on.

The business had grown and changed even in the six months I had been fully away, so it was great to be able to adapt to the changing needs of the business in a gentler way.

It also gave the team consistency of knowing when I’d be in, as we clearly communicated the pattern to everyone, and how that was gradually building to my return. Projects were handed over with ease, I was able to give extra support on the days I was in and schedule meetings around my availability.

I’ve found the business to be incredibly accommodating and supportive throughout my maternity leave, return to work and beyond. Whatever your initial plans for maternity leave, know that they don’t have to be set in stone, with good communication and some notice, you really can partner with the business to find a solution that works well for everyone.

Now my little boy is nearly 2 and on top of an 8-year-old (and a Labrador!) life is really busy! I feel really fortunate that my team and the wider business are so accommodating of my part time working and support my career development whole heartedly. I’d be happy to chat to anyone who may have questions around my experience, maternity leave in general or about being a working parent. I feel as though I’ve picked up some (hopefully) helpful tips and tricks to juggle it all along the way (or attempt to!), and if you know me, I’m always up for a natter!

Hannah Smith, HR Business Partner