Parents penalised at work: 3 in 5 UK employees rate their company’s maternity/paternity leave policy inadequate

4 min
Updated Oct 30th, 2023

A new study reveals widespread bias against those taking parental leave in the UK, as 1 in 6 parents felt their career opportunities reduced after simply requesting parental leave. Almost a quarter of employees (23%) said that the stress of work affected their ability to have children.

Almost 3 in 5 (57%) employees think their company’s parental leave policy and attitude to new parents is inadequate — with paternity leave for male employees (59%) and maternity leave for female employees (55%) both falling short.

1 in 6 employees felt their career opportunities were constrained by management after they had communicated their plan to take parental leave. And almost 1 in 10 employees (9%) thought that management restricted their career progression after they took parental leave — this was experienced equally by both men and women.

The 2022 Parental Leave Study was conducted by Fertility Family, experts in supporting those trying to conceive. They surveyed employees at 116 companies across the UK, to find out whether men and women felt parental leave was sufficient and whether this impacted family life, family planning and careers. 

Full report findings available here: 

The study also found that employees’ plans for starting a family were affected by parental leave policy, as well as wider issues within the workplace:

  • Almost a quarter of employees (23%) said that the stress of work affected their ability to have children 
  • Over 1 in 6 (16%) delayed having children because of their career
  • 1 in 20 have turned down a job or not applied for a job directly because of the parental leave policy

What employees want from their companies

To move forward, companies must embrace new, flexible working models. Flexible working hours (45%) and remote working (45%) are the most popular ‘wants’ from employees hoping for improved parental leave policy upon their return to work. 

Companies must also make it financially viable for their employees to take parental leave. A quarter (22%) of employees want their company to increase their rates of maternity/paternity pay. 

Gill McAteer, director of employment law at Citation, says:

“Those who feel supported by their employers, and are clear about what their entitlements are, will feel much more comfortable making plans to start a family. Employees who are unsure of their workplace’s policy can often feel disengaged and stressed, which may lead to them putting off plans to have children as they feel like they are not ready.

“Parental leave policies should be clear on employee entitlements and be available to everyone, with the aim of creating a supportive working environment. For employers looking to enhance their policies, they may consider adopting a family-friendly approach, with flexible or hybrid working, which would be well received by many of those who have families or are planning to do so.”

Lucinda Quigley, head of working parents at Talking Talent, says:

“The pandemic has led many people to re-examine their careers, futures and the way they want to work. Any companies not offering the right support and company culture could find their high-talent individuals eschew them in favour of more forward-thinking firms – which will be disastrous for long-term company success.

“Rather than backslide as offices reopen, now is the time for bold and honest conversations. Businesses must be ready to listen and create real change, especially given that the pandemic has changed people’s considerations about the companies they work for, whilst also shifting family priorities.” 

Notes to editor:

Chloe Chamberlain – Digital PR Executive –

About Fertility Family:

Fertility Family is dedicated to providing information and products that help increase the chances of having a baby. Fertility Family was started by Pharmasure, which has been in the field of fertility for over 20 years, and is partnered with Fertility Network UK and the British Fertility Society. Using their experience in the field, they have found carefully formulated products that have gone through clinical trials and are scientifically proven to help improve the chances of having a baby.

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