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  • Writer's pictureaxisaberdeen

A Conversation with Sammy Aliberg

Recently we have cast a spotlight on why companies should consider enhancing their paternity leave as a strategy for improving gender balance in the workplace and supporting workers mental health and wellbeing. We have also focused on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and why a short term investment in SPL could lead to a long term benefit in a retained and engaged workforce. You can read about it here and here.

In the first of our new initiative to showcase men’s experience of Shared Parental Leave we were very pleased to catch up with Sammy who shared his positive experience of taking SPL as well as his advice to others considering it.

The Facts

  • Sammy is a Principal Process Engineer with Kent.

  • He was awarded a 1st Class with honours MEng in Engineering and Chemical Engineering from Manchester University in 2012.

  • He began as a Graduate Process Engineer with Kent (Atkins at the time) in 2012

  • Sammy focuses on early stage design and feasibility for projects including debottlenecking, pressure reduction, modelling, rationalisation, carbon reduction and process auditing.

  • He became a Chartered Member of the Institute of Chemical Engineering in 2017 before returning to Kent where he now regularly takes on a technical lead role.

You’ve taken SPL twice now, can you tell us a bit about what motivated you to take SPL and your experience during and after it?

I took just over 3 months off for each child, after my wife had already taken 9 months of leave. We thought the children would be much happier at nursery if they were fully mobile and able to communicate better so wanted to leave it a full year, and I was keen to have a chance to get to know them better! We had semi-planned it before the birth but hadn’t looked into the details too much until closer to the time. After the first time with my daughter I was planning on taking slightly more time with my son but the timing didn’t work out as well because he was born 6 weeks early and we were using Christmas as a handy break point. Ultimately I didn’t see a reason that I shouldn’t take leave.

What were the things you most enjoyed or found rewarding about SPL and how has it affected your life and your family?

It felt like everything was going by in a bit of a rush while I was working so it was great to be able to spend some quality time together. I felt really lucky particularly with the age that I had them there was a lot of development. My daughter went from just about crawling to first words and walking so we got to have fun together rather than just the cycle of feed / change nappy / sleep that you can have earlier on.

Being the working parent while your partner is off sometimes puts you at a bit of a disadvantage because you can end up doing things a certain way that maybe doesn’t work as well for you, or struggle to know where some things are around the house etc. Taking full responsibility makes for a much calmer life compared to just stepping in at the weekends.

It may also have helped my wife to get back to work a bit earlier and settle back into a routine while there was someone still off at home to make it less of a sharp transition.

How supportive were your colleagues, line manager and company in general?

There were no issues with me taking SPL and I don’t remember it ever being questioned in a negative way. Some people were a bit surprised but ultimately people taking parental leave happens all the time. Having a man take a period off is no more or less disruptive than a woman taking maternity leave and we manage that all the time these days. I think there have been a few people since I took the time off that have made use of it on a slightly shorter basis.

Did you encounter any challenges either before, during or after SPL?

I don’t think taking the leave has negatively impacted my career. Having children / commitments in general does mean you need to turn down some opportunities but the leave itself if anything helped me to come back refreshed after the initial period of having a new child where it was maybe a bit more difficult to cope with lack of sleep and sudden drop in available free time. I do think if my wife had gone back to work straight away without me looking after the children for a while it would have been a more difficult transition with both of us in a similar state!

What more do you think companies and the industry as a whole could do to support working parents?

In terms of new parents it would be great if there was more awareness and uptake of shared parental leave. There can be some discrepancies with what is available for maternity compared to that for shared leave (for example I could only get statutory pay whereas my wife was entitled to full pay for an extended time). I think longer periods of paternity paid leave would also be really good as time dedicated for fathers to use on a “use it or lose it” basis. A lot of people use up all their parental leave by taking it as soon as the baby is born when there might not be so much benefit to the child from having 2 people available at that point.

After coming back to work, I think a lot of the post-COVID changes leaning more towards flexibility have been great for parents trying to manage nursery / school drop-offs and trying to get back in time to cook etc. It doesn’t especially seem like society is set up to have two full-time working parents with how expensive nurseries are and lack of after-school care availability. Being accepting of people working reduced hours or a strange schedule really helps.

Do you have any advice for men considering taking SPL?

I imagine spending all day with just your child could be a bit isolating if you don’t keep up some form of active social activity. We mostly spent our time in the house or outdoors rather than going to organised lessons / activities but I had a few evenings reserved for sport so I did see other adults outside of the family. I never really wanted to be part of the parent groups heading to cafes with a pram, but if that is the type of thing you like I’m sure that would be an option too.

I would absolutely recommend other fathers to go for it though. If you want to take an active role in raising your children doing it by yourself helps build yours and their confidence and lets them know they can rely on you as a parent. Young children are great for tagging along to things so you really can spend your time doing whatever you most enjoy and they will too.


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