Legal

The benefits of family-friendly policies

17 Sep 2018 By Esther Langdon

Employers should get creative with family-friendly policies when trying to attract and retain valued employees, as Esther Langdon explains

More than ever, employers are looking at ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd. They want to win and keep talent, increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and see their employees thrive and participate. 

Employee satisfaction is about many things, but work-life balance and flexibility always comes high on the list of priorities, in particular, the need for parents and carers to be able to positively reconcile their work and private life. Employees are increasingly willing to call out things they don’t like. Anonymous online employer reviews make it easy for employees to get their voices heard by their peers – be it praise or grievance.

There is no ‘traditional’ when it comes to families. Modern families include single parents, same-sex couples, unmarried couples, parents living apart, step-parents and extended family members. Traditional concepts – even such as the primary caregiver – are becoming harder to pinpoint. Added to this is our ageing population and the increased dependence between the generations.

Many modern families find that the statutory family-friendly schemes do not meet their needs. This is shown, for example, in the limited take-up of the shared parental leave scheme, with its technical and prescriptive eligibility requirements. It is also shown by the recent cases that challenge shared parental pay schemes – which were less generous than those offered under enhanced maternity pay schemes – and which open the way for a wider discussion on the primary purpose of maternity leave. Cases have also been brought in relation to certain surrogacy and IVF arrangements, which fall outside of the strict statutory framework.

It is a good time for employers to think about how they want to be seen, both by their employees and in the market. Employers usually – understandably – take the statutory position as their starting point – and either mirror or enhance it. But there is nothing to stop the innovative and creative employer putting bespoke solutions in place for its own business, which could pay dividends with its workforce.

Grandparental leave is just one example. In 2016, the government announced plans to extend shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents by 2018. It now looks like this has been kicked into the long grass. But just because the government will not put this on the statute book, does not mean that employers cannot consider it, or that there’s no mileage in it. When the government put this on the agenda in 2015, it referred to evidence that more than half of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they first go back to work after maternity leave. This suggested that nearly two million grandparents had given up work, reduced their hours or taken time off work to help with childcare. 

These numbers suggest that many employees who are grandparents might see a policy and some flexibility in this area as hugely attractive. Volunteering to offer grandparental leave is also an example of a way an employer can demonstrate that its commitment to work-life balance is meaningful and not just lip service. 

This is particularly where it would chime with the employer’s core values. An employer who speaks publicly about the importance of diversity and inclusion may well want to have family leave policies which suit a variety of modern families. 

Above and beyond

Other examples of employers going beyond the strict statutory structure of family-friendly rights include having transitional arrangements on the return to work, giving fathers the same rights as mothers and global employers offering family-friendly benefits which may be more generous than local variations. 

Introducing any family-friendly rights that go beyond the employer’s legal duties will of course always need to be carefully thought through. Employee surveys and careful cost analysis are a good place to start. However, we encourage employers to embrace the idea that they can lead the way and that they do have freedom to think about what works for their organisation and their workforce and do not need to rigidly follow legislative developments. 

Esther Langdon an employment lawyer at Vedder Price

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