Shared parental leave (SPL) at Shell

Eleanor Silverio, UK HR Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, believes SPL has encouraged the company to think more flexibly about its entire workforce. SPL has led Shell to review all existing ‘leave’ policies, considering whether they are still fit for purpose or whether they need to be adjusted to meet the demands of the modern workforce.

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Shell’s business case for SPL
The business case for incorporating Shared Parental leave (SPL) into Shell’s flexible working toolkit was clear and consistent with their strong family friendly policies. They see SPL as an enabler of their aim to attract and retain women from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) backgrounds, particularly for their senior leadership talent pipeline. They believe that supporting all working parents is key to helping their employees remain focused and energised when at work.

Developing the package
Shell’s Policy Team developed the SPL package, which was quickly endorsed by the leadership team given the consistency with their other policies and overall strategy. The policy team used benchmark data to see what the market was doing in terms of maternity leave, maternity pay and bonus payments and then balanced that against their key business driver of being fair to both the employee and the company. They also touched base with their colleagues in Norway to learn from their experiences, as they have had a similar policy in place for some time.

Equalising SPL with maternity
From an early stage, Shell took the decision to equalise SPL with maternity leave. To ensure a consistent approach, they reviewed their maternity policy to ensure that it was fit for purpose and could be used as a starting template for SPL. They made some slight adjustments and then mirrored SPL (as far as it was possible to do so) with maternity leave.

Challenges or concerns around implementing SPL
When considering SPL and how it would be implemented in the business, Shell initially had three main areas of concern:

  1. Firstly, they were concerned that discontinuous leave could cause difficulties in managing workloads and resourcing requirements, and how this would be dealt with from an administrative perspective. However, in reality, they have found that employees generally work closely with their line manager to identify a suitable period of absence depending on their role. Employees have naturally opted for the configuration that works best for them and their business.
     
  2. Secondly, their IT systems needed to be reworked to avoid manual intervention. Shell has a global HR IT system, which means that making changes can be time consuming, complex and costly. This has now been resolved to a large extent, but there are a couple of areas such as bonus proration which are still a work in progress.
     
  3. Finally, the global nature of the business was tricky in this respect – line managers from other countries didn’t always understand how a non-pregnant employee could be eligible for what they saw as ‘maternity’ leave. Clearly outlining the SPL policy for employees to share with their line managers, along with a culture of respect and trust, has helped. Their colleagues in Norway shared their experience of senior employees using the policy, which they believe made it more visible and encouraged others who may have been feeling hesitant. 

Since the implementation of the policy, Eleanor has found that the main challenge is encouraging employees to embrace the policy and increase take-up. Not many of their employees are currently considering it, so to help get the discussion going they give documentation to every parent who is either registering a pregnancy or the birth of a child, explaining what SPL is and how it works, along with an explanation of the other benefits that they may now wish to consider (childcare vouchers, child care support etc). 

How else is Shell encouraging take-up?
They understand that finances are important, particularly when there is a new baby in the family. Their SPL policy offers eligible employees a generous amount of paid leave, plus a further period of unpaid leave if required. For periods of paid leave, annual merit bonus payments are also accrued and paid at the usual time in the merit cycle.

Shell has an extremely diverse workforce and they have long been aware of the importance of inclusiveness. Therefore, a number of processes have been put in place with the aim of ensuring that all employees are treated equally wherever possible – such processes help to rule out bias (unconscious or otherwise). For example, parents can “step out” from the end of year ranking system, where usually those who have been absent for the majority of the year are given the previous year’s ranking. They also encourage Keep in Touch days and retain access to systems, so those who wish to remain connected or perhaps to look at the internal job site, are able to do so.

How has Shell communicated the option of SPL to staff?
When they first introduced SPL, they had a comprehensive communications plan, which included training for HR, a number of lunch and learns and dedicated Q&A sessions. A company-wide email was sent to all staff, describing the policy and how it worked. For ongoing queries, employees were advised to look online at the information provided or alternatively call the HR helpdesk, where HR staff had been fully briefed on the policy. They were also able to gauge the appetite for SPL in the business through the lunch and learns and Q&A sessions. 

The opportunities for employees
Employees now have more options when considering childcare than they previously had, and in turn, Shell aims to create more opportunities for other employees who may be able to step up to cover short term vacancies.

Going forward, Shell will continue to monitor developments in the market as well as reflect on how they may be able to simplify SPL and the offer they provide. They genuinely see SPL as a step in the right direction of continued equality and welcome the opportunities that it provides for their employees.