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Empowering parental leave

By David Cruickshank

Parental leave has come a long way since my daughters were born. Once seen as a consideration just for mothers, it’s starting to receive a fresh look and gain wider appreciation as a critical aspect of building a talented, productive workforce.

Parental leave has come a long way since my daughters were born. Once seen as a consideration just for mothers, it’s starting to receive a fresh look and gain wider appreciation as a critical aspect of building a talented, productive workforce.

Today, parental leave, in some form, is available in most countries, but as a recent Deloitte survey in the US shows, availability doesn’t always equal usage. A disparity still exists between the perception of parental leave as a benefit and the sensitivity of being judged, or falling behind, by taking advantage of it.

While this imbalance persists, support for parental leave is gaining a louder voice as more men join the chorus in greater numbers by urging employers to strengthen parental leave policies and fathers make the case that it’s the best choice for both their family and place of work. It’s not a coincidence anymore that what happens to be good for families also happens to be good for business in terms of attracting and retaining satisfied, productive, focussed employees. As a result, c-suites have started to pay more attention and make changes to their own company policies.

Results from a recent Deloitte survey in the US offer a compelling glimpse into where the parental leave discussion is heading and reinforces the concerns that still remain. Overall, the respondents said that they wanted more parental leave, but they remained fearful, especially among men, that taking parental leave will be a step backwards in their career.

The survey found that fewer than half of the respondents felt their company fostered an environment in which men are comfortable taking parental leave. In fact, 57 per cent of men felt that exercising their parental leave right would be perceived as a lack of commitment to their jobs. This fear appears to extend well beyond the US too. In Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, where all parental leave is transferable, only about three per cent of dads use it.1

Businesses in many countries are trying to change this mindset by using tactics to encourage paternal leave. These include transferable leave, making paternal leave compulsory, financial bonuses and lengthier paid time off. While these incentives are having an impact, they’re just one part of the solution. Changing minds requires transforming the culture in which parental leave – for both mothers and fathers – is seen as a smart decision for businesses, employees, and the communities in which they live and work.

The survey found that one in three respondents want to have more than three months of paid leave. It also found that 50 per cent said that they would rather have more parental leave than a pay raise, and some said that a stronger parental leave policy was more important than having a better boss, a better title or a shorter commute.

However, offering more parental leave alone isn’t effective if it is not being used. The corporate culture around parental leave has to transform in order to attract, retain, and advance the workforce of the future. This includes more compassion and responsiveness so employees feel empowered to succeed.

Across the Deloitte network, we are giving our people the support and flexibility to make daily choices that empower them to be energised, confident and aware. In the UK, the government allows mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to utilise the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) programme, to be taken up to a year after a child is born or adopted. This policy provides eligible parents with the option to share a period of their maternity or adoption leave with their partner, including sharing statutory pay.

Deloitte in the UK goes further to offer its people enhanced Shared Parental Leave. This matches the UK firm’s current level of enhanced maternity and adoption pay, which allows 16 weeks at full pay, followed by 10 weeks at half pay, so that parents can choose how to make their leave work for their own families. Our UK business also offers a Working Parents Transitions Programme for all parents to help them plan and manage the transition to parenthood as they juggle the challenges of work and their responsibilities at home.

Deloitte in the US expanded its parental leave policy to a broader family leave policy. This new policy offers 16 weeks of paid leave to anyone – male or female – who has a need, whether that need is the arrival of a new child, caring for a spouse or domestic partner, or dealing with the health of ageing parents. This effort is part of the Deloitte network’s inclusive culture that recognises that we know the individuals across our multigenerational workforce have different sets of demands and needs outside of work that emerge at different stages in their lives.

Looking ahead, this conversation will continue to develop as more Millennials become parents and their baby boomer parents continue to age. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Majority report in the US demonstrates that work/life balance and flexible work arrangements will be necessary for businesses to retain their Millennial employees. One way companies could differentiate themselves in the attraction and retention of Millennials is by committing to a comprehensive paternal leave policy that is embedded in a cultural change towards more flexibility.

While the parental leave survey discussed in this piece is specific to the United States, it’s reflective of a broader global conversation taking place around a more compassionate, flexible workplace that provides an environment for employees to feel empowered to prioritise their lives at work and at home.