Hinesh Shah, Forensic Accountant at Pinsent Masons LLP, talks to me about his Shared Parental Leave #emphatic
[Part of a series of interviews I’m conducting with other professionals taking Shared Parental Leave]
This week, I caught up with Hinesh Shah, Forensic Accountant at Pinsent Masons, to talk about his experience of taking Shared Parental Leave with his former employer, PwC.
The parts of the interview that really interested me are those where Hinesh told me that every new Dad in his team took SPL - a sign that times are indeed changing. Also notable was Hinesh's recognition that professional service firms are only as good as the people that make them up - you need to treat those people well and Shared Parental Leave is now a key part of that.
Brief description of your family setup:
There's me, my wife, and we now have a young boy who is 22 months old. Both my wife and I work full-time. We live in Kings Langley in Hertfordshire.
Brief description of your job:
I’m a forensic accountant specialising in investigations, so most of my time is spent supporting clients investigating financial and economic crime issues.
When I took Shared Parental Leave, I was working for my previous employer, PwC. I was there for ten years before I joined Pinsent Masons’ forensic accounting team in February 2019.
Brief description of your partner’s job:
My wife is a lawyer. She works for the Government in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and is responsible for writing laws for the UK. It's quite a good working environment and the hours are more regular than when she was in the private sector. She works full time but works from home for two days in the week. A lot of people in her team have children and home-working is supported.
How did you structure your Shared Parental Leave?
When my son was born, I took two weeks of paternity leave. I then took six weeks of Shared Parental Leave (plus two weeks' annual leave) when my son was approaching four months old.
My wife was on leave at the same time. My six weeks' SPL reduced her maternity leave by the same amount, so she used holiday she had accrued during her maternity leave so that she could still take a full year off.
Did your employer provide enhanced pay for your Shared Parental Leave?
Yes. I worked at PwC at the time I took my Shared Parental Leave. Any leave taken in the first six months would have been at full pay.
Did that affect your decision as to when you took the leave?
Because we didn't have any other children, there wasn't really a “right time” for us to use the Shared Parental Leave but it did make more financial sense to take SPL during the first six months, as opposed to in the second six months of my wife's maternity leave (when we would have been financially worse off).
I do know of other people who, for their own personal reasons, took SPL after the first six months and did not receive any enhanced pay. I think it's got to be a decision that works both personally and financially for you and your partner.
If the enhanced pay was offered throughout the full 12 months, would you have taken SPL at a different time in the birth year?
Potentially, yes. The availability of enhanced pay was definitely the biggest factor in my decision as to when I took the leave. However, it was nice to spend the second half of the summer on leave with my wife and son and it meant we got to make the most of the great weather we had! I'm not sure if I would have taken any additional time off though, as that would have meant my wife might not have been able to take a full 12 months off work.
Did you feel that Shared Parental Leave was encouraged informally by your company?
Yes. I never had any push-back; I was fully supported.
One of my colleagues, who was a Director at PwC, had previously taken SPL and so I asked him about what sort of impact it had and how he felt about being away from the business (especially given that he was a Director and a senior member of the team). He was extremely positive about his SPL experience; he said it was highly encouraged and that if people at senior levels don’t take it, juniors will never get to take it either. That was extremely inspiring to hear.
Had anyone else in your team/company taken SPL before you?
At that time, in my immediate team, not that I can think of. However, since I took SPL, there have been a lot of other men who have taken it, at least seven or eight Dads I can think of. Indeed, every new father that I know of , who is still in the team , has taken some form of Shared Parental Leave.
Were your colleagues supportive of your decision to take SPL?
And your clients?
Even more so.
I was working with a major client in Denmark at the time. Parental leave in Denmark is very important and the provision for it is excellent. When I had my son, I sent my client an email about taking SPL and it was absolutely fine. Even though it was a crunch time on the project, there were no push backs and they were very supportive.
How was your return to work; was it daunting?
It was a bit daunting for me personally because, in my experience, if you're off for anything up to two weeks you are always watching your phone a little bit because you know you're coming back in a short space of time.
However, as I was off for two months, I had to hand everything over, otherwise I would have ended up being on call for the whole two months, and that wasn’t what SPL was about for me.
Because I was working on one big project, it ended up being relatively straightforward for me as I was working with a large team. My main concern was that I'd been one of the more senior people on that project since it had begun. I was off the project for a two-month period, and the project was coming up to crunch time with a public report about to be issued, so my main concern was about the delivery of the report. However, when I returned, the same project was still on-going and the report had been issued so it was quite easy to step back into my role. I was also stricter about how much travelling I was doing, so rather than spending two or three nights in Copenhagen per week, I was spending just a single night there wherever possible. I also started spending at least one day per week working from home.
Have you inspired others to take SPL?
Hopefully indirectly. When I returned to work I did share how invaluable I thought the process had been for me personally - it’s time that you just don’t get again. It's arguably been the best time off I have had in the last 11 years (including my six-week honeymoon in South America!).
I would like to think that some of the colleagues who took it after me were encouraged to take it following our discussions. I only had a positive experience; there are no negatives to taking SPL from my perspective.
If moving job, would a prospective different employers’ parental leave policy affect your decision about moving company?
Would it be a deal-breaker? Probably not.
Would it be a consideration? Yes.
If I’m honest, partly for selfish reasons, at some point down the line we might end up having another child and so I would definitely want to take it again.
Does having a good SPL policy give you a better impression of a company?
Yes. It shows the company cares about its people. In the businesses I’ve worked in, i.e. professional services firms, the key assets are its people. It’s the people that do the work and it’s the people that bring the work in. If you're not treating your people right, or you're not showing that you're treating them right, it doesn't send a very good message.
Your SPL / Fun stuff
What was a typical day like?
As I was off at the same time as my wife, it meant that one of us could have a lie-in to catch up on sleep.
My son was at a great age. We started weaning during my time off and we saw lots of different expressions on his face when he tried different foods!
Generally there was a routine around feeding and nap times but also a fair bit of flexibility in how we spent our days.
We spent one week with my parents and in-laws in the UK and also spent 10 days in Italy with my sister and her husband and little boy. It was lovely for the cousins to be able to play together and also travel with family who were going through the same experiences as us.
How were the flights to and from Italy?
Not bad! - I’ve become a lot more accepting of crying babies on flights! You now know that every parent is doing their best to try and pick the right flight time, give milk before the flight etc!
What activities did you get up to during your SPL? / Did you do any baby classes etc.?
We went swimming but also spent a lot of time with family. My wife also did a lot of the Baby Rhyme Time-type classes and we’d hang out with friends we'd made through our NCT group.
In terms of parenting, was there anything that you felt, as a Dad, you couldn't do? Or vice versa?
The first six weeks after birth is just about survival: it's all new so just keep each other sane and happy and do the best that you can. Lots of people will offer advice with the best intentions but it can sometimes feel overbearing. You just have to go with what you think is right and whatever works best for you. After the first couple of months, things just naturally tend to get a bit easier.
My son is a proper mummy’s boy, so there are times when he will only want mummy! But there's nothing that my wife does that I haven't done or can't do myself (apart from breastfeeding!).
By the time I took my SPL, I was already pretty familiar with my son's routine and all the feeding, nappy changing, bath time routine etc. But the biggest lesson I learnt during my SPL time was that being at home with a kid on your own is ten times harder than going to work, regardless of how many hours you're working in the office! It's not the intellectual challenge; it’s the fact that you are never “off”.
SPL gave me an absolute realisation just how much easier it is to go to work than it is to be at home with a baby. It gave me a newfound respect for single mothers; it’s exceptional what they must do.
After your SPL, did you feel more confident about your own childcare abilities?
I felt like I knew my son better and I felt like he knew me better. It was quality time with my son and I felt I had an important role in his upbringing. I'm quite a hands-on dad and I'm extremely proud of this.
Did SPL improve your professional skills?
Yes - it made me much more cutthroat with how organised I need to be. I now tend to leave the office somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30pm every night because, if I don't, I won't see my son in the evening as he'll be asleep when I get home.
It just makes you more principled with your time. You worry less about what perceptions people may have about “facetime” etc. and actually realise it's about working smarter and making sure your team knows that the work’s going to get done wherever I’m working from. My job can be unpredictable at times and can necessitate urgent demands. If I've managed to see my son in the evening, I am much more inclined to finish the work after he's asleep - I can pretty much work from anywhere as long as I have my laptop and mobile. I am definitely more efficient, organised and better at prioritising since taking SPL.
Can you see any reason, other than financial impact, why a dad shouldn't take Shared Parental Leave?
Off the top of my head, no.
I'm from a family orientated background and so, for me, if you could spend more time with your family why would you not want to do that?
I could see somebody not taking it because they might think it would be damaging to their career. To overcome this, it’s so important that employers not only offer a good policy but also encourage it to be used - and encourage people that have taken it to share their experiences and the benefits they've realised from taking SPL.
Why do you think take-up of Shared Parental Leave is so small?
I don’t think you’ll ever find a Dad that’s taken Shared Parental Leave that didn’t enjoy it. So I think it's probably a few factors:
The first is whether enhanced pay is offered and when during the birth year it is given.
The second is the financial impact: can you afford to be on 50% or 0% pay if you've got a mortgage and bills to pay etc. and your family is dependent on that income.
The third might be how much leave the mother wants to take.
There might also be a feeling that there’s a stigma attached to taking it, i.e. that you’re not hitting your billables / hours / targets for the year by taking SPL. However, firms need to think more broadly about how a good SPL policy can be a competitive advantage - it will encourage loyalty, motivate staff and is likely to lead to higher retention levels.
What would your top tip be for new Dads?
Happy wife, happy life!
When you spend time with a young baby, you realise how hard it is. Taking that few months off you will have a newfound respect for a full-time mother. Whatever investigation I might be working on, it's just not comparable to spending 24 hours at home looking after a baby. If your partner is the one who spends most of the time with your child, treat them well and the rest will fall into place.
Make sure you embrace that time, it goes far too quickly!
What is the longest you've looked after kid/s on your own?
Probably a morning or an afternoon session. My wife hasn’t spent a night away yet.
Worst childcare task/job?
I’m quite a neat and tidy person, so weaning with mushed up food going everywhere wasn’t great but you get used to it after a while!
Best childcare task/job?
Reading. My son loves books and he will now just pull a book from the shelf, give it to me and sit on my knee. He turns the pages himself and you can see his eyes light up and that's just brilliant.
I also love giving him new foods to try and seeing his expressions (he likes Marmite, which was a surprise).
In your view, who would make the better Dad:
- Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson?
Jeremy Corbyn. He just seems to me to be a bit more of a people person.
- Prince Harry or Prince William?
I think the new Prince Harry. I think the old Prince Harry - the party Prince Harry - probably not! Prince William just seems a bit stern and a bit too serious. I think Harry would be a bit more fun and relaxed.
- Bill Clinton or Donald Trump?
Probably Bill Clinton as at least he's got Hillary Clinton to keep him in check, whereas Donald Trump just does what he wants!
Finally, would you recommend SPL to other dads?
© Joe Young / www.dadonspl.co.uk