Parental leave: sharing the joy - Richard Foulerton

Richard Foulerton, corporate social responsibility manager at Allianz UK, speaks about becoming a full-time parent, his transition back to work and how the support from his company made an important time in his life that much easier...

My name is Richard Foulerton and I am the corporate social responsibility manager at Allianz UK. I have worked for Allianz UK since the end of 2008. Principally, I manage Allianz UK’s strategy for integrating environmental and social issues into the business; including our climate change strategy and community impact strategy. I met my now wife, Stefanie Foulerton (nee Stefanie Keith), while working for Allianz in 2009. We got married in September 2011 and in July 2015, we had our first child, Freddie. Stefanie is now a senior HR manager, having started work at Allianz in 2009 as a HR adviser.

What was your role before becoming a full-time parent and what role do you have now?

My job role is unchanged. However, Stefanie was promoted from her role as a HR manager to senior HR manager when she was three months pregnant.

How was your transition back to work? Did you have any feelings of guilt?

Stefanie took eight months’ maternity leave. I took two and a half weeks’ paternity leave when Freddie was first born and a further week’s annual leave within the first two months.

It was really important to have that time together, firstly to bond as a new family and secondly, to share the workload – looking after a newborn baby is hard work, so I made sure did my fair share of changing nappies; but I also got plenty of cuddles!

Going back to work was hard for me, as I wanted to spend all my time with Stefanie and Freddie; but the bills still need to be paid and you’ve got the added cost of baby clothes and nappies on top. Not to mention the buggy, cot, car seat and the rest – thankfully, our parents helped us out with some of the bigger things.

Your priorities change when you have a child, so instead of going to work early and staying late, I found I was trying to keep more to a 9.00-5:30 schedule. I find Allianz is very supporting of having a work-life balance, especially for new parents. We don’t generally have a long-hours culture, so I didn’t feel guilty about leaving work ‘on time’.

After Stefanie returned to work on 1 March 2016, I arranged to take ‘shared parental leave’ (SPL), which had only been introduced in April 2015. It means parents can choose how to split the ‘maternity’ leave, rather than the mother taking it all.

Again, Allianz was really supportive and, because SPL was a new regulation, our HR department was quite keen to have a few ‘case studies’. For me, taking a month off with Freddie was really important and it was very special to have the time together; but also for Stefanie returning to work, it helped with her transition too, knowing that Freddie was at home with his dad. The month passed far too quickly but I think (hope) we are all the better for it.

Freddie started nursery on 1 April, now that Stefanie and I are both back at work. He’s doing four days a week, so Stefanie and I each take a day off per month to be at home with him. My mum also comes to look after Freddie twice a month.

What did your firm do to make it easier for you?

Allianz has a generous ‘return to work’ offering for mothers returning from maternity leave – a 25% uplift in salary for 12 months. That certainly helps with the added cost of childcare; and we can also buy childcare vouchers through our flexible benefits package. Stefanie and I have also both bought five days’ extra holiday this year to make sure we have plenty of time together, besides weekends.

What advice would you give to other mums and dads about to returning to work?

My advice would be: don’t rush back. Enjoy the time at home with your new baby – it’s a cliché, but you really don’t get that time again.

To any new dads wanting to spend a bit more time at home, I would say: ask your employer about shared parental leave – a recent study showed that since the new rules were brought in 12 months ago, there has only been 1% uptake.

This is largely due to a lack of awareness generally about the new rules – but also some dads may worry what their employer or colleagues may think. I can only say that in my case, I had lots of support – especially from other dads who have older kids, who said they would have loved to have had the extra time, but there was no allowance before.

What is the biggest challenge to being a working mum or dad?

The biggest challenge is time. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s always got to be compromise and some things you may have done before – whether it be socialising, exercising or whatever – you don’t get to do as often as you used to before becoming a parent.

Now we’re both back at work, the mornings and evenings disappear in a flash. We have about an hour and a half in the mornings to both get ready and get Freddie ready to go to nursery; and about an hour and a half in the evenings after picking him up, to give him tea, have a play, give him a bath and put him to bed at 7pm.

It’s important then to still have some time together as a couple to talk about our day, have some dinner and then hopefully get a good night’s sleep before it all starts again!