Sun. May 22nd, 2022

Parental leave can become challenging for businesses when workers do not feel they can be open with their employer. A company that encourages parents to take leave by making policies accessible will find it easier to plan, says Danny Harmer, chief executive officer of Aviva, the insurance company.

“You need to have an organization where it’s okay to take leave” so that employees do not “walk around in line” with their line manager, she says. This is essential in an organization like Aviva where, by 2020, according to Harmer, 99 percent of qualifying fathers took shared parental leave, with 84 percent taking six months.

“People need to feel that they will not be penalized,” said Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a British trade body. It involves more than just clear frameworks and policies – it requires trust and a culture that supports mothers and fathers to take time away from work.

During the pandemic, with many white-collar staff working remotely, some organizations failed to build such trust among employees. Daisy Dowling, American author of Workhorse, says she spoke to women who worked from home and kept quiet about their pregnancies.

“The rationale I hear is ‘once you announce that you expect to be treated differently, so why would I extend the time I do this?'” She says. “There must be better messages from organizations. If there is a mutual mistrust, both parties will be harmed. ”

The UK introduced shared parental leave in 2015, but the move did not result in an increase in men taking longer hours off work. (Estimates is between one to 10 percent of qualifying parents taking it up.) This is partly due to the complexity of the scheme and the fact that it means women have to give up their leave. In other countries, such as Norway and Sweden, partners have dedicated ‘use it or lose it’ time. But men’s reluctance can also be due to internal factors at their employer. A 2020 recording of working fathers by consultants McKinsey found “having the right policies in place was not sufficient if the work culture looked down on them because they were taking leave”.

In the US, some companies, especially the streaming service Netflix, which offers both moms and dads until the first year, made paid family leave a central part of their benefits package. But there is still no federal maternity or paternity leave and its inclusion in the Build Back Better Bill appears to be a struggle.

Yet the pandemic has encouraged many professionals to reconsider their work patterns. This year, inquiries to the Legal Advice Line run by Working Families about shared parental leave have tripled compared to 2020, according to the charity’s CEO Jane van Zyl. Men’s calls about paternity leave and childcare more than doubled in the same period.

“We hear from many more men than ever before: fathers who want to know more about their paternity rights, men who have spent more time at home over the past 18 months and now want to bend their hours to play a greater role in caring for them. children, ”says van Zyl. “Employers need to realize that if you want to attract the best and most diverse talent to your organization, you need to start looking seriously at your flexible and family-friendly policies for fathers and partners, as well as for women,” she adds.

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Do you have access to family-friendly leave policies? Or should businesses do much more for parents? Join the conversation in the comments below this article

Christian Edelmann, co-head of Europe and managing partner at Oliver Wyman, the consulting firm, has also observed a growing number of male employees wanting greater flexibility to download and pick up. “Dad enjoyed more family time and did not want to give it up,” he says.

In response, the company is finalizing plans for new flexibility and parental leave. Edelmann wants to encourage dads to take leave, which he plans to do when his second child is born.

The pandemic has prompted many companies to improve family-friendly policies in an effort to recruit and retain staff. A survey of 700 UK employers in a range of sectors by childcare provider Bright Horizons found that 48 per cent of employers currently offer improved shared parental leave, up from 25 per cent in 2017.

In November 2020, Lego, the Danish toy maker, introduced a policy that all employees – regardless of their location, position or working hours – have a minimum of 26 weeks of paid childcare leave for the primary caregiver and eight weeks of paid leave for the secondary caregiver. In addition, it announced two weeks of paid leave to care for a family member. The company has made central funding available to ensure interim coverage.

But staff absenteeism is a tough issue, especially for smaller companies. Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, says that while small businesses may offer flexibility to parents, they often struggle to “offer their employees increased maternity pay where margins are particularly low”. In addition, in the UK, Cherry says, “the shared parental leave system can sometimes be complicated to navigate and administer, especially for the smaller businesses that have no HR support”.

Unlike sick leave, or absences due to aged care, maternity or paternity leave is easier to plan, Harmer says. “You know when they go on leave, so the handover is simple.” Some expectant parents are also “really proactive” and “make suggestions” on how to cover their absence.

Matt Bridger, senior manager in the remuneration and employment practice at PwC, says his team has the firm’s Graduate Business Program to fill gaps. “There are challenges,” he admits. “How much do you want to invest in someone if they are only there for three months? We [also] do specialized work and they need many more hands, ”he says. But, he adds, while young recruits do not have the “background knowledge of legislation or advice from clients on similar cases”, “they do know the firm’s systems”.

Other options include placements from PwC’s Flexible Careers Network, a pool of external candidates who want short hours of work or flexible hours. Intermediate positions can also be good, Harmer adds, although companies need to ensure that their onboarding processes are efficient.

Alternatively, a team may redistribute tasks or a junior member of the department will act. Bridger says, “It gives them a good chance to demonstrate their skills.” And Dowling says return programs for men and women who have taken career breaks can be “brilliant parental leave coverage.”

Some organizations are trying to have more nuanced conversations about parental leave with employees, Dowling says. “Historically you would go on leave, and it is a blackout period. It’s a cold room and a cold return. This can be difficult for the employer and the parent. I see more ways to create a more gradual return, ”she notes.

The rules vary by country, but in the UK, 10 hold-in-to-days can be structured so that employees have some involvement in projects as they re-engage. The downside is that new parents may feel pressured to work: it depends on online managers who can have sensitive conversations, Dowling says. Oliver Wyman gives the parent taking leave to a senior sponsor to oversee the transfer of obligations when they leave and upon their return.

And while some employers have infringed on the support of women returning to work after maternity leave, there is still a way to go for fathers, Bridger says. “There are improvements that need to be made, especially if you are stretching them for longer periods, you need a return process,” he adds. He nonetheless enjoyed one workshop for new dads. “To have a group to have open conversations [with] was invaluable. ”

Companies that are inflexible run the risk of losing talent. As McCartney at the CIPD says: “The way you are treated as an employee [becoming a parent] will have a huge impact on your loyalty and desire to stay with the organization in the long run. ”

Tell us what you think and take part in the discussion in the comments section below.

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