Benefits can ease mothers back to work

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• Employers can offer a range of perks to entice parents to return to work after a period of parental leave.

• These benefits include: childcare vouchers and back-up emergency provision; onsite nurseries and discounts at offsite nurseries; ante- and post-natal workshops, sessions or classes; financial incentives such as return-to-work bonuses and flexible working arrangements.

• Such benefits can help to boost employee engagement and loyalty to their employer.

Case study: NHS Bradford and Airedale District PCT seeks a work-family balance

NHS Bradford and Airedale District primary care trust has a number of schemes that are tailored to support its
17,000 staff in achieving a healthy balance between work and family.

Its Childcare Support Services won ‘Most effective benefits strategy for working parents and carers’ at the Employee Benefits Awards 2010.

Since its programme was introduced in 2002, the percentage of new mothers returning to work has risen from about 75% in 2005 to nearly 90% in 2009. The PCT’s childcare offering includes two onsite nurseries, childcare
vouchers, emergency childcare provision, a keep-in- touch scheme during leave, and a variety of ante- and post-natal workshops.

Anne Whitaker, childcare support manager at NHS Bradford and Airedale District, says: “Our parents were not returning to work after maternity leave, were finding it difficult, or were delaying it because they had not got childcare in place. We started up a keep-intouch scheme where we do maternity and paternity workshops. So whether [staff] are thinking about having a baby or have just become pregnant, they are invited to a workshop where they can ask one-to-one questions, speak with midwives, learn about the emotional side of having a
baby, childcare provision, and health and dietary practices while pregnant.”

Case study: Ford drives up number of returning mums

Ford Motor Company offers maternity leave of 52 weeks at 100% of pay. All employee benefits, including pension contributions and company car, continue throughout that period. The company, which has 12,000 staff in the UK, won ‘Best for maternity’ in Working Families’ Top Employers awards 2010.

Ford operates a buddy system to support female staff during their maternity leave and return to work. Mitra Janes, diversity and inclusion manager at Ford, says: “It has worked very positively, particularly for first-time mothers who are returning to work after essentially a whole year away from their job.”

Each leaver is also assigned an HR associate, who supports and advises them from early pregnancy, through maternity leave, to their return to work.

The firm’s parent-friendly perks also include childcare vouchers; private rooms for expressing milk and refrigeration facilities so milk can be stored safely; reimbursement for antenatal classes and free antenatal information packs; and onsite childcare for the 3,000 staff at its largest facility in Essex.

Ford also runs maternity workshops and, starting this year, it will be staging a workshop for new fathers as well. Janes says: “We have been thinking for a while that there are some things we can do to better engage with the fathers group. It is a good precursor to the legislation change and hopefully this will encourage fathers to consider what their rights are.”

Currently, an average of 98% of new mothers at Ford return to the organisation following maternity leave. Janes says: “We put that down to the fact that we place our maternity returners into proper jobs – they are not sidelined into project roles.

“We are able to offer a wide range of flexible working opportunities and we have got things like onsite childcare available to our staff. All of these things help us to drive that percentage up.”

Employers can use a variety of benefits to help staff who have been away on maternity leave to return to work in a seamless way, says Jennifer Paterson

As any new parent will tell you, life changes dramatically after the birth of a child. Whether a worker is a first-time mother or has added to their brood, returning to work after maternity or adoption leave will be a challenge as they juggle their new responsibilities with working life.

According to the Managing maternity survey, published by Axa Icas in 2009, return-to-work rates have risen slightly, up to 87% from 84% in 2007. Employers can offer a number of benefits to ease the process for employees, which, in turn, can help maximise the return-to-work rate and lessen the likelihood of losing key staff.

Childcare vouchers

One way of building employee loyalty is by providing help with childcare, either by assisting staff to locate suitable childcare or with funding. Childcare vouchers are a tax-efficient way for employees to cover childcare costs, and can be offered via a salary sacrifice arrangement. From 6 April 2011, only basic-rate taxpayers will receive full tax and national insurance (NI) relief on up to £55 a week. Tax relief will be restricted to £28 a week for 40% taxpayers and £22 a week for 50% taxpayers, when employees take up the benefit from this date. Existing users will be unaffected by the change.

John Woodward, group managing director at Busy Bees Benefits, says: “A family, where both parents take childcare vouchers, can save over £2,000 in NI. That is very significant when you have got childcare costs that can be quite high.”

Onsite nursery

Employers could also provide an onsite nursery, or discounts or places at local nurseries. Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, says: “Onsite nurseries have obvious benefits for staff, who feel secure in the knowledge that their child is nearby, and there is a high level of convenience for parents in terms of drop-off and pick-up.”

An onsite nursery is typically better suited to larger organisations, but workplace nursery partnership schemes enable employers to select and register with government approved nurseries nationally so staff can receive tax relief on the cost of using a local facility. Emergency childcare, meanwhile, can give employees peace of mind should their usual care arrangements break down.†

As well as offering care for employees’ children, an employer can also provide support for parents, for example through pre- or post-natal sessions, workshops or classes. Some firms offer practical childcare courses such as a first-aid course for new parents. Carole Edmond, managing director of Bright Horizons, says: “We do things like lunch-and-learns, with a group of parents coming together to talk about a particular subject, which could be anything from making the transition back to work to more specific content on weaning the child.”

Options such as maternity coaching enable staff to plan their maternity leave and return to work. Liz Morris, director of consultancy and training at Working Families, says: “Good-practice organisations may not provide maternity coaching from an external coach; they may enable line managers to do that. The best transitions back to work are when there is a rock-solid relationship between employee and line manager, and they collaborate on building a transition plan on getting back into the workplace.”

Keep-in-touch scheme

This type of coaching is divided into three key stages: preparing for maternity leave; as part of a facilitated keep-in-touch scheme during an employee’s leave; and upon their return to work. Keep-in-touch days, which are up to 10 days that an employee can work during their statutory maternity leave, are designed to help them stay in touch with their employer while they are away. These days can be particularly useful to help an employee stay up to date with training or team events, and can ease their return to work.†

When an employee returns to work, some employers provide facilities such as private rooms for new mothers to express breastmilk. Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care, says: “When an employee is breastfeeding, they need a place to express milk. Most organisations have these facilities, but 10 years ago there was not a lot.”

If an organisation does not have the space to offer post-natal sessions or coaching onsite, it could offer access to a childcare helpline through an employee assistance programme (EAP) or health cash plan. This can help to allay any concerns or answer any questions an employee might have. Lee Andre, marketing manager at HSF Health Plan, says: “Employees can phone a doctor 24 hours a day, arrange a call-back for a time that suits them or, if they are worried about something, they can speak to a doctor at any time.”

Employers can also offer financial benefits for returning parents. For example, some employers carry on making pension contributions throughout an employee’s maternity leave. Legally, they are required to provide such benefits only during the paid portion of an employee’s leave, when staff are entitled to rights and benefits (excluding wages). So, if an employer contributes to an occupational pension scheme, it must make its usual contributions for the first 26 weeks of the statutory maternity leave.

Maternity pay

The employee should also continue to make contributions based on the amount of maternity pay they get. Statutory maternity pay is based on average earnings over the period before the maternity leave starts. It is available if the employee earns above the lower earnings limit, which is £5,044 in 2010/11.

If employees make pension contributions via a salary sacrifice arrangement (or fund any other contractual non-cash benefits in this way), employers must continue to provide these benefits during any period of additional maternity leave, even if the employee is not receiving any salary or wages that can be sacrificed.

Some organisations also give a financial incentive, such as a bonus, when an employee returns to work. Birth grants, which are available through some health cash plans, award parents between £100 and £1,200 for each child. So the birth of twins could put £2,400 in a returning parent’s pocket.

In some sectors, bonus payments are also made during maternity leave. My Family Care’s Black says: “The best companies will treat [an employee] as if they never took a maternity leave, so they would be getting the bonus they would if they had continued on working. Goldman Sachs talks about paying full bonuses to employees even if they are on maternity leave.”

Employers can also offer financial benefits tailored to working parents, such as courses about planning for their child’s financial future. Paul Bartlett, director at Grass Roots, says: “Whether it is [saving for] private schools or university, employers can offer financial planning so staff can start to pay into those immediately.”

Flexible working arrangements are another way to ease a parent’s return to work after maternity leave. These include part-time working, flexible hours, working from home, job-sharing, unpaid leave and career breaks. Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), says: “Employees have the statutory right to request to work flexibly, enabling them to adjust their working pattern to suit their needs. The vast majority (88%) of mothers who were surveyed by the NCT wanted to work flexibly on their return to work.”

Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at P&MM, adds: “Flexible working arrangements for return-to-work mothers allow them to maintain the roles they had, but come back in with flexible working, so they can be confident they are playing their mother role and their work role.”

Paternity leave
Many of the benefits traditionally offered to staff returning to work after parental leave involve female employees, but there are forthcoming changes to paternity provision. From 3 April 2011, a father will qualify for an additional 26 weeks’ paternity leave if their child is born after that date. If the employee’s partner has returned to work, the leave can be taken between 20 weeks and one year after the child is born or placed for adoption.

But whatever benefits they offer to help parents return to work, employers should be sure to maintain a close link with staff while they are away. Working Families’ Morris says: “To maximise return rates from any leave, particularly maternity leave and additional paternity leave, what an employer needs to do is to manage it as a work-related transition project. An employer needs to support the employee remaining professional and the employee needs to be proactive about that, too.”

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