At the time my son was born five years ago, I was working as an HR officer at a niche pharmaceutical company. I enjoyed my job, I was treated well, and when I left to have my son, I had every intention of returning to work and picking up where I left off.
Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. They go awry. You see, before I became a mother, I really didn’t see how inadequate most parental leave policies are. My company gave me 12 weeks off at full pay to spend with my newborn son—an enhancement on the statutory maternity allowances here in the UK and a fairly generous amount of time by U.S. standards. But when you hold that little bundle in your arms and have to face the reality of letting it go for 8, 9,10 hours a day, you quickly feel how short 12 weeks really is.
When it was time to go back to work, my husband and I made some dramatic changes to accommodate our new family. He gave up his career to become a full-time dad, and I went reluctantly back to my former role. My son had just begun to smile right around the time I returned to work, and I couldn’t help but envy my husband at home.My husband took over right when the baby giggles and peek-a-boo began.
The reality of my sacrifice wore on me upon my return to work. Ultimately, I left the pharmaceutical company. But I want to be clear. My last company wasn’t a “bad” place, and they did try to be flexible within the confines of their policies. It’s just that, as an HR professional, I am acutely aware of the fact that, had that company offered more robust support for its new parents, I probably wouldn’t have left.
Finding A Better Way
The story of my son’s birth and my experience going back to work is not unique. But as with all parents, it’s a journey that has profoundly reshaped every facet of my life. It’s a story of stress, coping, more stress and—finally—dramatic changes to the life I once knew.
But unlike many other parents, my story didn’t end there. As an HR professional, I’m one of the fortunate few who have been given the opportunity to learn from my own experience with parental benefits and work to change that narrative for other new families.
About 5 months ago, I was sitting with the CEO of my current company, Partnerize, and we were discussing new ideas that could help us continue to increase the diversity of our workforce, including attracting more women to our company. I saw my opportunity, and I took it.
I proposed sweeping changes to parental benefits program—changes that would not only attract more women to our company, but also set us apart in all the countries where we operate. A policy that would improve employee retention and productivity, and create the type of supportive work environment in which people can thrive.
I wanted the parents in our company to have the support that I didn’t get when they chose to start and expand their families. So I included both personal stories and strategic arguments in the pitch. What quickly became clear is that my CEO cared just as much as I did.
And neither of us wanted the benefits to stop with mothers. I recalled my husband’s own struggles with new parenthood, and the significant sacrifice he made for our family. My CEO and I agreed that any new parental benefits program would extend to fathers in our company as well. And that single new parents and same sex couples should also get the benefits.
After months of research and discussion, the final package that we rolled out far exceeded my expectations. Key elements of our global parental benefits program include the following:
- Primary Caregiver Paid Family Leave: We offer ourpaid parental leave benefit to Partnerize mothers or whichever parent will be the primary caregiver. This benefit includes six months’ salary at full pay, then an additional six months’ salary at half pay, the ability to return to the company in the same or an equivalent job, and the option for a phased return to work over a six-week period.
- Non-Primary Caregiver Paid Family Leave: We offer ourpaid parental leave benefit to Partnerize fathers or whichever parent will be the non-primary caregiver. This benefit includes two weeks’ full pay upon birth or adoption of the child.
- New Arrival Benefit: In the first paycheck after a birth or adoption, the employee receives £100 (or the local currency equivalent) for initial incidental expenses like baby clothes, take-out meals and nappies (diapers).
- Family Days: Parents of children under 18 will also have the option to take up to five “family days”—analogous to personal days—for family-related obligations like ill children, school activities and acute childcare needs.
I’m fortunate to be working with an executive team that understands the importance of investing in its workforce. We have no doubt that this new program will aid in attracting top talent and retaining our valuable employees. But more importantly for me, supporting employees’ family lives is just the right thing to do. I know a program like this would have changed my life when I had my son, and I’m proud that we took this important step.