Kate Pollard, Circle In
Kate Pollard, Circle In

When it comes to retaining and boosting the productivity of new parents at work, policy is important, but success really hinges on providing the right practical support, says an expert.

Simply having a generous parental leave policy isn't enough, because if it's seen as a business cost, the employee will most likely have a poor experience, Circle In co-founder Kate Pollard tells an HR Daily Premium webcast.

"Unfortunately, despite having access to paid parental leave, it can all come undone by an individual's manager's engagement in the process," Pollard says.

"This then translates into a stressed or disengaged employee who returns to work experiencing lost productivity, and who could likely go on to leave the business because it's all 'too hard'."

Although practical support for employees is as important as the policy itself, Pollard notes that best-practice policies do have some common characteristics, including but not limited to:

  • Gender neutrality – removing primary and secondary carer labels enables all employees equal access to paid parental leave regardless of gender;
  • No minimum tenure – removing or reducing the minimum tenure to access company paid parental leave sends a clear message to employees that the organisation wants to build a long and lasting working relationship; and
  • Flexible return – this might involve supporting an employee's transition back to work from parental leave with reduced hours at full pay for the first month after returning, for example.

"Ultimately if we can do a better job of helping parents maintain their career momentum, this will in turn result in better business and social outcomes for everyone," Pollard says.

Medibank parental leave takeup soars

Medibank scrapped primary and secondary carer labels in March 2018 with its FamilyFlex policy, Pollard explains.

The policy is flexible, as parents can choose to take their 14 weeks' leave across two different periods within the first 24 months after a child is born or adopted, whereas under the previous policy, the primary carer would be eligible for 14 weeks' paid leave in one block, and the secondary carer could take two weeks of paid leave.

"Before FamilyFlex was introduced, only 2.5% of employees taking parental leave longer than two weeks at Medibank were male. More than a year later... this figure is now 33% and on average males are now taking seven weeks of parental leave," Pollard says.

Not every company can afford to implement an expensive parental leave policy, but there are a range of low-cost initiatives that can have a huge impact on return-to-work rates and productivity, she adds.

"If you want to change the culture and encourage others to take up your benefits, it starts with role modelling from senior leaders. So, who are the senior leaders in your organisation who have taken leave or work flexibly? Get them to share their story in the workplace. This is particularly effective if you are trying to get more dads to take parental leave."

Employers can also establish a working parent group to "bring the voice of working parents to the table in your workplace. It's also a great way to provide employees with extra support and resources".

The full webcast delves further into best practice policies and low-cost practical initiatives, as well as discussing research and leading employer case studies (upgrade here for access if you're not a premium member).