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Is your parental leave policy good enough?

The perfect parental leave policy of the future is still unwritten

Until early 2020 a parental leave policy was just another of the T & C's in an employee's employment contract. Then Covid-19 blindsided the whole world! And governments, businesses and individuals were affected in ways unseen in living memory.

A year on and still amid a raging pandemic, some businesses are trying to accommodate employees, but many others aren't. Governments have also stepped in here and there. Get an idea of where we stand right now –

In a survey conducted by the Trade Unions Congress in England and Wales of 50K working parents found [1]:

  • 93% of the respondents were women, implying they're carrying the heaviest burden
  • 78% weren't offered furlough, and 71% have had furlough requests denied
  • 90% of working mothers have increased anxiety and stress
  • 48% of respondents feared being treated negatively by their employer because of childcare responsibilities
  • Low-paid working mothers are eight times more at risk of losing their job due to childcare responsibilities

Here's a look at a few more stats:

  • Zurich Insurance has just promised an extra ten days off to parents and carers facing Covid-related crises [2]
  • Germany has introduced up to 20-weeks' pay to cover the costs of childcare [3]

And US parental leave policy changes have seen [4]:

  • Google extend paid caregiving leave from six to 14-weeks during the pandemic
  • Facebook give their employees a $1,000 bonus for childcare needs and extend paid caregiving leave
  • Real estate group, Zillow introduce ten fully paid days of caregiver leave
  • The USA introduce the Families First Coronavirus Response Act giving parents up to 12-weeks partially paid leave for childcare

Tech sorts out working from home, but what about the kids?

As countries began implementing "stay-at-home-orders" and the word "lockdown" became part of our everyday lives, parents realized the magnitude of their dilemma. It's fair to say, though, that employers didn't! 

Everything from daily trade to employee working conditions changed, and out of the blue, existing policies and procedures have to be rewritten. However, most employers are grappling with parental leave policies.

Staff working from home got smoothed out by technology. Few, however, considered the impact of schools and childcare centers shutting their doors. Suddenly parents were shouldering the responsibility of taking care of their children while working full time from home. 

In the initial panic, people didn't consider the long-term impact of providing adequate childcare while maintaining job responsibilities. Adapting to change has subsequently become a massive issue for many households, though.

Challenges faced by employers

While many big tech companies quickly extended benefits for employees, it's not that simple for smaller concerns and non-tech companies. Being forced to stop trade under lockdown conditions has seen massive losses in income, making it challenging to offer an extended paid parental leave policy. Although some employees can work remotely, many others have to get furloughed or even paid off as sales drop.

There are, of course, industries that are still operational in lockdowns and partial lockdowns, but employees have children who can't attend school or daycare. As a result, they need to make adequate arrangements for their daily care and homeschooling.

Another issue is to figure out who qualifies for any additional benefits. Is it mothers only, married couples, single parents or all caregivers? Not only is the cost a burden on a stained cash flow, but it means more admin costs. Someone has to manage the new parental leave policy to ensure that it's fair across the board.

But what encompasses fair? Is it right to allow employees with children reduced working hours with or without full pay and exclude those who don't have children? Although people might not have children, many could have other vital responsibilities around the home, like caring for a frail adult family member. Should that not count as well considering that home care services also are suspended?

It's evident that an extended parental care policy runs much deeper than just caring for children.

Most governments can't enforce a parental leave policy

No government will introduce regulations making a paid parental leave policy mandatory because they know many companies will be doomed in this pandemic. At the same time, they're well aware that homeschooling is out of reach for many parents.

There was plenty of hope that the pandemic would disappear by the end of 2020. Instead, the world is faced with even more cases this year. Worse still, all indicators are that we'll still be dealing with this virus by the end of 2021.

Back in 2019, these countries help the top five spots when it came to parental leave policy implementation –

  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Sweden

Using 2016 data, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that no parental leave policies were mandated in –

  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Switzerland
  • The USA

Based on these findings, lead author at the United Nations Children's' Fund concluded: "all of these countries are rich compared to the rest of the world, so all of them can afford to invest in children and family-friendly policies".

A parental leave policy doesn't have to be mandated by the government, though, for companies to opt to include it in their policies. In recent years there's been more and more data proving that employees with a stable and healthy home life are more productive. This has led to forward-thinking leaders focusing more on employee wellbeing.

Work-life benefits aren't a new concept

Despite a lack of legislation, work-life balance was high on the agenda of many HR executives and business leaders pre-Covid19. Encouraging employees to prioritize their job demands with the needs of their personal life helps reduce stress and potential job burnout. Keeping work and home life separate allows for quality time and focus in both spaces. Less stress also leads to fewer physical and mental health issues, like depression at work, making people more engaged.

Flexible working hours and working remotely were on the rise. Employers also offered health and wellness programs, online and face to face counselling, chill-out spaces, and incentives for fitness and a healthy lifestyle. But that was all before employees got sent home and schools and childcare centers were closed.

Suddenly the lines between work and home life got blurred. Even employees who previously worked from home faced the challenges of being surrounded by family 24/7. Previously, they could schedule their day and often had external support to assist with chores, which all fell away. Add to that, taking on the role of fulltime carer and teacher burdened parents in ways never experienced before.

The work-life balance benefits offered by employers became of little help, and all indications are that women in the workplace are carrying the bulk of home life burdens. Experts warn that this can lead to further gender inequality in the workplace as employers penalize women and show a preference towards men. 

What employers can do to support employees

No one can force an organization to accommodate the additional needs of their employees during the pandemic. However, it's vital to consider that the Covid19 experience will permanently impact how people view life, their career, and their future. Things will never be the same again!

Progressive leadership that adopts a compassionate and flexible company culture is likely to attract top talent in the future, while rigid structures and mindsets will see an exodus.

Here are some points to consider –

  • If you had a parental leave policy in place pre-pandemic, it's insufficient today
  • Working from home before the lockdowns in incomparable to working from home now
  • As restrictions get eased and pressure mounts on employees to return to work, consider childcare needs (schools and care centers might not be open)
  • Each employee's situation differs; be open to consultation and flexibility
  • Acknowledge that peoples' home life has changed; be willing to listen and offer support
  • Employees work and live in the same physical and emotional space, meaning that job and family stressors impact one another 
  • Open team dialogues and encourage relation-building interventions for improved teamwork and collaboration
  • Line managers must be considerate when setting goals and work schedules and employees must be encouraged to give adequate notice if work gets delayed
  • Accept that unexpected delays will arise due to family issues; don't penalize employees unnecessarily
  • Consider shorter working hours and job-sharing
  • Keep work communication to standard working hours and don't expect employees always to be available
  • Offer coaching and other mental health support

We're still searching for the perfect solution

No one can come up with a perfect parental leave policy sample right now. Businesses are at the mercy of government policy driven by the virus. Employees, in turn, are in the palm of their employer's hands.

Having clear parental leave policy parameters will go a far way to relieve employee stress; however, consideration must also be given to employees without children. Employers must tread carefully when designing policies to avoid discrimination claims. 

One of the biggest challenges facing employers is that there's no timeline for how long the pandemic will last and how long its effects will be felt. Also, how will it affect peoples' mindset in the future? And then, must parental leave policy changes be permanent or implemented for the pandemic's duration only?

Companies are clearly contemplating these changes. Twitter announced that employees could work from home permanently. Facebook announced that about 50% of their employees could continue working from home even after the pandemic. On the other hand, Google announced that their work from home and extended leave policies were in place for the duration of the pandemic only.

Industries have different needs, executive mindsets and company culture vary, and labor law changes within countries and regionally. No one was prepared for this – we're living through unprecedented times and breaking into unknown territory.

How will your parental leave policy fare now and in the future?

Venturing into the unknown is successfully negotiated by the mavericks and trailblazers of this world. People who think beyond existing norms and standards, are willing to try new ways of doing things, and aren't afraid to take risks.

These are the business leaders who will survive the pandemic and steer their organizations through these challenging and uncertain times. A pioneer mindset is flexible and focused on future outcomes and opportunities while keenly aware of current trends.

The emotional toll of Covid19 can't get ignored either, so leaders need a high degree of emotional intelligence and empathy to manage the workforce of the future.

The new-normal of today (and tomorrow) means re-conceptualizing work-life balance initiatives and concepts and devising policies that benefit employers and employees. Rather than adopting a heavy-handed approach and backsliding on any progress made, it's time for leaders to have open and bold conversations. Leadership consultation with employees must ask how people want to work in the future. Knowing your workforce will ignite the spark of innovation necessary to get the best policies to retain your top staff and benefit the organization.

We're living through a time that will have its permanent placeholder in global history! And times like these have always come with considerable hardship and suffering, followed by innovation and profound change.

As humankind's future is busy reshaping itself, the stand-out leaders won't necessarily come from the big corporates. They'll be the entrepreneurs or future leaders who are willing to accept that the past is gone.  Embracing novel and pioneering approaches to doing business, leadership and culture, and getting the best out of their staff.

Schedule a free demo to learn how F4S can improve team performance and wellness through our advanced People Analytics platform and AI-powered coaching.

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