February 25, 2022

6 Expert tips for writing your next parental leave policy

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For most people, finding out you’re going to be a parent is a joy. But most parents also experience worry, guilt, frustration, and even outright fear. And the chances are, at least some of these emotions will be experienced at work. Some of them might even be provoked because of work. 

What will happen to my career?

How will I tell my boss?

Will I be supported financially when I need to take leave?

Maternity and parental leave policies date back more than 100 years and are now established policy instruments in over 120 nations. These policies were originally designed to protect maternal and infant health, but contemporary parental leave policies have the potential to do so much more. 

We spoke to the most experienced HR and Talent Acquisition professionals amongst some of our Endorsed Employers to see how they developed their parental leave policies to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees. We share their top six tips for writing progressive and effective parental leave policies that will help take some of the stress off the shoulders of the soon-to-be-parents among your employees. 

1. Proactively seek out where you could be using inclusive language

Many organizations have already started removing gendered terms from the overarching names of their parental leave policies – for example, the change from ‘maternity leave’ to ‘parental leave’. But upon closer inspection within the wording of these policies, still refer to heteronormative roles like ‘Mother and Father’ or imply the child will be birthed by the Mother – ignoring the possibility of adoption or surrogacy.    

“Be proactive in introducing family-friendly policies that are gender-neutral.”

– Vassia Christides (she/her), Senior Talent Partner | Paddle.

“Policies are important but can become barriers to supporting your people. Make sure that your policies promote opportunities, not limit them. We encourage the use of inclusive language as much as possible.” 

– Jonathan Lee (he/his), Employee Benefits Specialist | Cummins.

Modern families don’t fit into a single mold, so a progressive parental leave policy should accommodate all types. As Vassia and Jonathan say, be proactive by ensuring all the language remains inclusive and promotes opportunities for the possibility of varied family types. 

Why it matters

“CGI’s parental leave is allowing me to support my family with my wife returning to work after the birth of our second son. Being gifted the opportunity to be the main caregiver of our children is allowing me to build stronger bonds with my boys that I would not otherwise be able to experience.”

“It has empowered the entire family unit, demonstrating an equal parenting scenario for our children to be educated in their future ways of thinking and in turn their expectations in all their endeavours that lie ahead.”

– Grant Simmonds (he/him), Service Delivery Manager | CGI.

2. Reflect on what you’ve said ‘no’ to

“If you find yourself having to say ‘no’ to a request, use it as an opportunity to reflect on whether your policy needs improving.” 

– Jonathan Lee (he/his), Employee Benefits Specialist | Cummins

We love this advice as all good goals originate from a place of reflection. It’s all well and good to see what your competitors are doing and copy them. But if it’s your goal to write a successful parental leave policy that meets the needs of your organization the first step is to look at what the parents and carers in your company have been asking for (and where you might have been declining those requests). 

Maybe the requests go beyond just how many weeks of leave they might have access to. Reflect on all the requests that could be helping the parents and carers amongst your employees succeed in their jobs: Flexible working, return-to-work planning, additional leave prior to pregnancy to help families going through IVF, support for those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.

Another hot tip through this reflection period is to read through any exit-interview data to see if your parental leave policies had anything to do with why employees may have resigned in the past. 

“Last year, changes in my personal circumstances meant I became sole carer for my two young children. Managing this transition on top of a demanding client-facing assignment felt overwhelming. I have now been able to flex my hours to work a four-day week spread over five days, which allows me the flexibility whilst also delivering my job to a high standard.”

“Consultancy is a demanding career; I’ve never wanted or needed special favors to get around that. This wasn’t about changing my core role or responsibilities, just allowing me to deliver my job in a slightly more flexible way.”

– Helen Lightbowne (she/her), Principal Consultant | PA Consulting.

3. Get feedback from employees

The next logical progression after reflecting on what they have previously requested, is to actively seek out feedback from your current employees around what your parental leave policy should look like. And our experts agree:

“Start by listening to what your employees want first. We can easily make assumptions as to the needs of our employees and what to focus on. Requesting regular feedback, hosting focus groups or just providing an avenue where ideas can be shared makes all the difference along with making sure your leaders are accessible and approachable to share ideas.” 

– Stephanie Calvert (she/her), Talent Acquisition Lead | CGI.

“We found listening to the experiences of our employees hugely valuable. We ran a series of focus groups in 2021 to help us understand the challenges we need to address from a policy, benefit and a culture change perspective. This process of listening to the voice of our employees is something we would recommend to other employers seeking to improve their focus in this area.”

– Jo Whitcher (she/her), Senior HR Business Partner | PA Consulting.

And remember to not only ask for feedback on what new policies you should be introducing, but also about the effectiveness of existing policies. 

Why it matters

“In my first pregnancy, I sadly suffered a loss, but it was comforting to know that I was able to take two weeks of Special Maternity Leave. Another great initiative that Multiplex also provides whilst you are on Primary Carers Leave is up to 12 months contribution to your superannuation.”

“This greatly decreases the financial burden on women, and in my eyes is a welcome move towards gender equality.”

– Jess White (she/her), Construction Planner, Melbourne | Multiplex.

Want to see some of the progressive policies other companies are implementing?

Read what 12 of our Endorsed Employers are doing to support parents at work.

4. Start with small trials if need be

“Once you have some good insights from your people then trial some different approaches. The feedback from these trials can be very helpful for business leaders to understand the issues and learn about the positive impact of some proposed policy changes. Sometimes trialling different options on a small scale in a particular area of the business is a great launch pad to implementing something business-wide.”

Multiplex.

This is great advice, especially for global companies where sweeping changes to policies across 1000’s of employees in multiple countries can be costly. As per advice from Multiplex, business leaders have difficult decisions to make when weighing the impacts of new or progressive policies. Smaller regional trials might be useful to test what is effective, and get the data needed to make the business case for larger changes.  

Why it matters

“Taking leave to become a full-time carer to my son when my wife returned to work from parental leave is the best thing I’ve ever done. You only get the time when your children are young once, and you can’t put a price on the chance to bond with them. It’s a really great thing TransGrid offers.”

– Li-Wen Yip (he/him), Technical Specialist Commercial Energy Storage and Grid Technology | Transgrid.

5. Ensure employees are aware of your parental leave policies

There really is no point in having ground-breaking policies if no one knows about their existence. So having a plan to communicate your parental leave policies to new and existing employees is critical as our experts agree:

“Awareness of these benefits is key! Don’t introduce benefits, especially about leave, for the sake of your brand in the hope that employees won’t access it. Actively encourage your employees to take up the benefits on offer.”

 Lauren Solly (she/her), Senior HR Business Partner | F5

“Ensure that these are promoted not just through People teams but also Managers and Senior leadership, as they are the most important enablers in an organization. Managers and senior leadership need to be consistent in their support, and encourage their teams as much as possible.”

Vassia Christides (she/her), Senior Talent Partner | Paddle.

 

Why it matters

“When my children were born my husband and I both took shared parental leave enabling us both to spend equal quality time with them. It’s important to me that whilst it’s a legal right for employers to offer shared parental leave, that they also support their employees to take full advantage of it.

I also have a flexible working arrangement in place which enables me to balance my role with caring for my children alongside my husband, meaning I feel I truly have a positive work-life balance where I can make a difference in both roles!”

Jennifer Beston (she/her), Head of Major Programmes | Southeastern Railway.

6. Beyond awareness – psychological safety

Perhaps the most important tip of all goes beyond just having the policies in place, or spreading the word on their existence, and ensuring your employees feel safe discussing their needs. 

“Foster a culture in which carers feel comfortable discussing their caring responsibilities. Provide practical support such as organizational memberships.”

Tamara Graham (she/her), Format Development Project Manager | Woolworths.

“Focus on the employee’s mental and physical wellbeing needs to be at the forefront of the company culture and empathy, trust and flexible working arrangements will always go a long way in retaining good talent in an organization.”

Archana Singh (she/her), Talent Acquisition Partner | Catch

As we said, parenthood is a time of tumultuous emotion, so it’s important to have a safe space to talk to empathetic, accessible people within the company, people who can answer at least some of the multitude of questions spinning around in your employees’ heads as they welcome new members into their families. 

Why it matters

“By working flexibly and sharing the care, there’s always time for the moments that matter.”

– Peter Kennedy, Oceania PAS Talent Development Leader | EY.

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About the Author
Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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