How to maximise employee engagement through parental leave benefits


Need to know:

  • Communicating the inclusive nature of parental leave benefits can demonstrate to employees that the organisation’s values align with their own.
  • Fathers are more likely to feel they are catered for if offered enhanced paternity leave, allowing them to take a more active role in childcare.
  • Enhancing parental leave policies identifies an employer as a family-friendly organisation, ensuring that staff returning from leave feel valued.

Pay gap reporting has, among other things, caused employers to focus on the role of parental leave arrangements in perpetuating gender differences, and to consider whether their policies can be adjusted to help grow senior female representation.

Parental leave is also becoming more prominent as a recruitment lever, especially as Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson has tabled a bill in the House of Commons that would require organisations with 250 or more employees to publish parental leave and pay arrangements, to attract talent from a more family-centric pool.

Considering the fact that any effective attraction policy is supported by a strategy for retention, what part might parental leave benefits have to play when it comes to employee engagement?

Inclusive policies

To demonstrate an alignment with the employee’s own values, organisations should consider promoting the inclusive nature of their parental leave policies. This could involve outlining how the benefits help those going through surrogacy or in vitro fertilisation (IVF), promoting adoption leave, and communicating parental benefits as inclusive of both same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Rita Trehan, founder and global strategist at HR consultancy Dare Worldwide, describes this as ‘neutralising’ parental leave. “It’s a massive engagement lever, because it makes people feel valued, and that they’re working for [an organisation] that has the same values as them,” she explains.

This is also true for employers that equalise shared parental, maternity and adoption pay, which, according to My Family Care’s May 2019 Parental leave policy and reward benchmark 2019 report, 40% are currently doing.

Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership at My Family Care, says: “It does require a budget to [equalise parental leave], but it makes the message much [clearer] around supporting parenting in a gender-inclusive way. For an employer that wants to raise engagement, that’s a very important message.”

Equally, employers that are seen to be working to reduce the gender pay gap are likely to build a stronger brand and reputation both internally and externally. “If [organisations] can enhance [parental leave] and ensure that’s not a factor that ends up causing a gender pay gap, that’s a massive engagement tool,” says Trehan.

Paternity entitlements

Research by Working Families, published in April 2017, found that 25% of those fathers that would opt for shared parental leave would do so because they want to share childcare duties with their partner.

Jonathan Swan, head of research at Working Families, says: “In terms of engagement, it’s a really key thing to recognise that there is a different expectation [now] about what work is and the opportunities for work and family integration, certainly [for] those younger employees who’ve got young children.”

In addition to equalising shared parental leave with existing maternity provisions, employers might consider enhancing paternity leave and pay, ensuring that fathers feel they are valued in their own right, and that their needs merit an entitlement that is over and above statutory levels. The millennial dad at work report, published in May 2019 by Deloitte and Daddilife, revealed that 48% of fathers see improving paternity leave as a vital change employers need to implement.

This can help build a positive organisational culture, adds Swan: “Give fathers their own standalone entitlement to leave and the culture starts to really take on board the idea that it’s men and women, not men or women, doing the caring.”

Enhancing parental leave

Enhancing parental leave gives a clear message to staff that they can pay full attention to parenting, rather than worrying about their status or security. “That person is coming back more ready, more confident of their ability to return and to combine work and family; they’re coming back thinking of [the organisation] as a family-friendly employer, which means culturally, they are more likely to stay,” explains Liston-Smith.

Employers can enhance parental leave by providing longer periods on a fully-paid basis; for example, by increasing the statutory 90% of pay for the first six weeks to 100%. According to Liston-Smith, the most popular enhancement is to offer 26 weeks of leave at full pay.

Employers should also make shared parental leave an independent entitlement, says Kirstie Axtens, head of employer services at Working Families. “There are people that would like to take shared parental leave, but their partner doesn’t want to curtail their maternity leave,” she explains. “If [employers] make it an individual right, there’s no curtailing of leave by the other partner needed.”

Organisations can also make parental leave policies global, for a consistent employee experience, and remove eligibility criteria, such as length of service.

It is also wise to ensure that parental leave policies operate alongside other mechanisms, such as back-up care, mentoring, and employee networks, to fully support employees upon their return.

As Swan concludes: “[Employers] need to supplement what’s available if [they are] going to try and push towards [a] more equal workplace where there’s better opportunities for men and for women to combine work and family life, which is the root of it all. That’s a really powerful engagement tool.”

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