Parental leave can become difficult for companies when workers don’t feel they can be open with their employer. A company that encourages parents to take time off by making policies accessible will have an easier time planning, says Danny Harmer, director of human resources at Aviva, the insurance company.
“You have to have an organization where it’s acceptable to take time off” so that employees “don’t tiptoe” with their supervisor, she said. This is essential in an organization like Aviva where, in 2020, according to Harmer, 99% of eligible fathers took shared parental leave, and 84% took six months.
“People need to feel like they won’t be penalized,” says Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a UK business body. It involves more than clear frameworks and policies – it requires trust and a culture that helps mothers and fathers take time off work.
During the pandemic, with many white-collar workers working remotely, some organizations failed to build such trust among employees. Daisy Dowling, American author of Worker, says she spoke to women who worked from home and were silent about their pregnancies.
“The rationale I hear is ‘as soon as you announce that you expect to be treated differently, then why would I make my time longer?’” She said. “There has to be a better message from the organizations. If there is mutual mistrust, both parties are at a disadvantage.
The UK introduced shared parental leave in 2015, but the move has not triggered an increase in the number of men taking longer time off work. (Estimates indicate that between one and 10 percent of eligible parents participate.) This is in part due to the complexity of the program and the fact that it means women have to give up some of their leave. In other countries, such as Norway and Sweden, partners have spent “waste or waste” time. But men’s reluctance can also be due to factors internal to their employer. A 2020 survey of working fathers by McKinsey consultants found that “having the right policy in place was not enough if the work culture looked down upon them for taking time off.”
In the United States, some companies, including the streaming service Netflix, which gives mothers and fathers up to the first year of leave, have made paid family leave a central part of their benefits. But there is still no federal maternity or paternity leave and its inclusion in the Build Back Better bill is proving to be a battle.
However, the pandemic has encouraged many professionals to reconsider their working methods. This year, requests to the legal advice line run by Working Families on shared parental leave have tripled compared to 2020, according to the association’s executive director, Jane van Zyl. Calls from men for paternity leave and childcare more than doubled over the same period.
“We are hearing from many more men than ever before: from fathers who want to know more about their paternity rights, from men who have spent more time at home in the last 18 months and now want to adjust their schedules to play a greater role in care. for their children, ”says van Zyl. “Employers need to understand that if you want to attract the best and most diverse talent to your organization, you need to start seriously considering your flexible and family-friendly policies for fathers and partners, as well as for women,” she adds.
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Christian Edelmann, co-head of Europe and managing partner of Oliver Wyman, the consultancy firm, also observed that a growing number of male employees wanted increased flexibility in making drop-offs and pick-ups. “Fathers have had more family time and don’t want to give it up,” he says.
In response, the company is finalizing plans for new flexibility and parental leave. Edelmann wants to encourage fathers to take time off, which he plans to do when his second child is born.
The pandemic has prompted many companies to step up their family-friendly policies in an effort to recruit and retain staff. A survey of 700 UK employers across various industries by childcare provider Bright Horizons found that 48% of employers currently offer enhanced shared parental leave, up from 25% in 2017.
In November 2020, Lego, the Danish toy maker, introduced a policy that all employees – regardless of location, position or working hours – will get at least 26 weeks of paid childcare leave for primary caregiver and eight weeks paid high school leave. caregiver. In addition, he announced two weeks of paid leave to care for a family member. The company has made central funding available to secure interim coverage.
But staff absences are a tricky problem, especially for small businesses. Mike Cherry, president of the Federation of Small Businesses, says that while small businesses may be able to offer flexibility to parents, they often struggle to “provide their employees with improved maternity pay when margins are tight. particularly tight ”. Additionally, in the UK, says Cherry, “the shared parental leave system can sometimes be complicated to navigate and administer, especially for small businesses that don’t have HR support.”
Unlike sick leave or absences for elder care, maternity or paternity leave is easier to plan, explains Harmer. “You know when they’re going on leave, so it’s easy to transfer. Some expectant parents are also “really proactive” and “making suggestions” on how to cover their absence.
Matt Bridger, a senior executive in the rewards and employment practice at PwC, says his team used the company’s Graduate Business Program to fill in the gaps. “There are challenges,” he concedes. “How much do you want to invest in someone if they’re only there for three months?” We [also] do specialized work and they need a lot more manpower, ”he says. But, he adds, while the young recruits do not have “the basic knowledge of the legislation or of advising clients on similar cases”, they “know the systems of the company”.
Other options include internships from PwC’s Flexible Careers Network, a pool of external candidates who want short shifts or flexible hours. Interim positions can also be interesting, Harmer adds, although companies need to make sure their onboarding processes are efficient.
Alternatively, a team can redistribute tasks or a junior member of the department will step up. Bridger says, “This gives them a good chance to demonstrate their skills.” And Dowling says repatriation programs for men and women who have interrupted their careers can be “great parental leave covers.”
Some organizations are trying to have more nuanced conversations about parental leave with employees, says Dowling. “Historically, you go on leave, and it’s a blackout period. It’s a cold start 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.
Rules vary by country, but in the UK 10 contact days could be structured so that employees get a little involved in projects as they return. The flip side is that new parents may feel pressured to work – it depends on online managers being able to have sensitive conversations, says Dowling. Oliver Wyman assigns the departing parent a primary sponsor to oversee the transfer of commitments upon departure and return.
And while some employers have made strides in helping women return to work after maternity leave, there is still a long way to go for fathers, says Bridger. “There are improvements to be made, especially as you stretch it over longer periods of time, you need a feedback process,” he adds. Nonetheless, he enjoyed a workshop for new dads. “Have a group to have open conversations [with] was priceless.
Inflexible companies risk losing talent. As McCartney told CIPD: “The way you are treated as an employee [becoming a parent] will have a big impact on your loyalty and your desire to stay with the organization for the long term.
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