The summer holidays are drawing to a close and it's back to work for many. Four colleagues share how they have adjusted their working patterns and perspectives on shared parental leave.

Flexible working group

Shared parental leave was a very enriching experience

Dan WhitewoodDan Whitewood, Supervising Associate, took one month’s shared parental leave to coincide with his wife’s first month back at work.

“I really wanted to spend the one-on-one time with my daughter and my wife and I agreed that it would also be a big help to her as she could concentrate on her returning to her job without worrying about how our daughter was settling into childcare.

I was a supervising associate at the time, arranging it was really easy and preparing for it was just the same as preparing for going on holiday (handing over live matters etc.), although as I quickly discovered looking after an eleven-month old by yourself should in no way be compared to being on holiday! That said I thoroughly enjoyed it, would 100% recommend it and I have no doubt that it resulted in me developing a closer relationship with my daughter.”

Upon his return, Dan continued to share the responsibility of dropping off and collecting his daughter on certain days of the week, working flexibly to accommodate his responsibilities.

“My wife and I continue to share the responsibility of dropping off and collecting our daughter on certain days of the week. The drop off isn’t an issue as my daughter likes to wake us up nice and early (!) and so even when I am dropping her off I’m generally still in the office by 08:30am. Collection can be trickier since I like to get to her for about 5pm and so I will typically log off at 4:45pm and then if required, I’ll log on later after my daughter has gone to bed.

Most of the time I don’t mind returning to work later on as there’s normally less correspondence in the evening which allows me to focus better and get things done more efficiently. That said sometimes it’s not ideal or easy (particularly when you can see the email traffic building up on your phone whilst supervising bath-time…) but I feel very fortunate to be able to work flexibly when I want to.”

Challenging misconceptions about shared parental leave

charlieCharlie Vermeylen, Managing Associate, was one of the first men at the firm to take shared parental leave.

“In 2016, I took shared parental leave several months following the birth of my first child. I think I was about the second person at the firm to apply, because the legislation was quite new.”

We were able to proactively support Charlie and took time to help him understand the policy and make it work for his family. Charlie’s team was very supportive.

“Given the shared parental leave concept was new, and since I wanted to take it up several months after my son arrived, I was slightly apprehensive as to how colleagues would react. In fact, the prevailing message from several of the partners was that they wished the policy had existed for their own children. Everybody in Financial Services was very supportive, and I was able to spend some very special weeks with my son.”

In 2019, Charlie opted to use the policy again, although the planning was quite different on this occasion.

“Since childcare nursery vacancies arise sporadically, and we needed to tie my shared parental leave to my daughter’s nursery start date, it was difficult for me to give the firm much notice. To complicate things further, the only viable dates followed shortly after a long-planned family holiday. However, my team and the wider firm were again very accommodating. In particular, there was no pressure to read emails or otherwise to be involved with work during that period, for which I’m grateful. I have no hesitation in recommending the experience to other new parents at the firm.”

Working patterns can be tailored to work for you

basilBasil Woodd-Walker, Managing Associate, took periods of shared parental leave to accommodate conflicting schedules.

“I initially took an additional two weeks after my son’s birth to be present in the (precious, bewildering and exhausting) first few weeks. I then took a further period of shared leave in February 2018 while my wife, who is a lawyer at another firm, returned to work to cover a discrete piece of work. When that work was completed, she resumed her parental leave and I went back to work. I then took a further period of shared parental leave in August, and ordinary paid leave in October to help cover the transition period when my son started nursery and my wife returned to work full time.”

For Basil, one of the benefits of using shared parental leave was the precious time he gained with his son.

“Using shared parental leave was a very enriching experience. Initially, it gave me time with my son and wife which would otherwise have been cut shorter. Later in the year, it allowed me to experience the daily joys and challenges of looking after a baby on my own, while giving my wife the opportunity to spend time back at work. At the end of the year, I was able to help as the family adjusted to a new rhythm of life. Using parental leave also required discipline, commitment and careful case management to ensure colleagues were up-to-speed and able to assist in periods when I was out of the office. I was fortunate to have excellent colleagues who were able to accommodate periods of absence. This required long-term advance-planning on all sides, but I’m pleased to say that it worked really well.”

Small adjustments can have a big impact

lucianLucian Firth, Financial Services Partner and father of three has been working at Simmons & Simmons for thirteen years and began working flexibly when his first son was one.

“I was a supervising associate at the time. I needed to take my son to nursery in the morning and the nursery hours and an hour-long commute meant it was difficult to be in the office for 9:30 - 10am was more realistic. I discussed this with one of the partners I worked for. We talked about the impact me arriving later would have on others - our clients and other members of the team. Would clients be trying to contact me? Would partners be wanting to discuss matters with me?

We agreed that I should test the arrangement. It worked.”

A simple 30-minute adjustment to Lucian’s working day made a huge difference. It meant that Lucian was able to do the morning drop off, his wife was able to leave for work much earlier and they didn’t need to outsource that part of their son’s day.

“It didn’t seem to have any negative impact on our clients or others in the team. I was still very much in touch on email and on one or two occasions when I did need to make calls at 09:30 I worked at home (saving the hour commute) so I could make it.

A couple of years later, when I was a managing associate, my wife needed to go to Switzerland every week for two days. The nursery closes at 6pm and so to get back for that time meant leaving work at 4.45.

I did this a couple of days a week for almost two years.”

At Simmons we support different approaches to juggling work, family and life responsibilities. Whether it’s a four-day week, flexible start and finish times, remote working or job shares. Find out more about a career at Simmons here.