The London School of Economics discusses its approach to parental policies.
Taking a new approach to parental policies
Three years ago the London School of Economics (LSE) decided to benchmark its pay and benefits for working parents. The school knew that it had good arrangements for mothers, but was keen to ensure that it was being fair to fathers as well.
The additional paternity leave regulations that were due to come into force at that time meant fathers could take more leave, in some cases paid. But LSE's HR team knew that statutory paternity pay was too low to be attractive to academics.
"We submitted an entry to Working Families (a work-life balance charity) that runs an annual 'top employer' award that sparked thoughts for improvements," says HR manager, policy and employee relations, Gail Keeley. Together with her team, she won the support of senior management for a comprehensive package of benefits for parents, and for extra training to help managers see the business case for accommodating them.
These, and subsequent measures, led to the LSE becoming joint winners of the Working Families 'Best for fathers' award in 2012, and winning its 'Top ten employers for working families' and 'Best for all stages of motherhood' awards in 2013. The Workingmums jobs website also awarded the LSE its 'Best for dads' award in 2012 and 2013. Creating greater equality over parental policies has helped the school to retain its academic talent.
What the LSE offers fathers
Although the maternity package is generous, it is LSE's offering to fathers that really stands out. In addition to childcare vouchers and access to the workplace nursery, key benefits include:
- paid time off to go with the mother to two ante-natal appointments
- two weeks' paternity leave at full pay
- up to 16 weeks of additional paternity leave at full pay, if the mother returns to work early, up to three further weeks at statutory paternity pay rates (the exact number of weeks depending on the how many SMP weeks the mother has remaining), and up to seven weeks of unpaid leave
- workshops for new fathers
- a phased return to work and a mentor, who is also a parent.
Keeley says the package was "designed to help fathers and partners. It felt like discrimination that women would get their full contractual pay but men would only get statutory pay."
The new arrangements are a real incentive to couples to share leave once the mother has moved into her statutory pay period because, at that point, fathers taking time off to care for the baby while the mother goes back to work get up to 16 weeks' leave at full pay.
Contractual paternity pay for fathers/partners taking additional paternity leave at the LSE has been in place since spring 2013, but take-up is still low, partly because additional paternity leave is only available to partners if the mother returns to work after having the baby. Although four men have applied for it, two were not statutorily entitled to it because their partners had not returned to work (they had been made redundant by their employers).
By contrast, the very recent introduction of a term's paid research leave (see below) for eligible employees is already proving an incentive, together with contractual pay, for fathers to take up additional paternity leave. There are two examples of employed couples where the woman is taking 26 weeks' maternity leave and the male employee is taking 26 weeks' additional paternity leave.
The new shared parental leave regulations, in force from 1 December 2014, may also increase take up by providing working parents with more flexibility in how they take their leave entitlement.
Work-life balance workshops
Among the most innovative aspects of the LSE family friendly offering are workshops to help new parents balance work and home life. At first they were only for men, and were open to non-employees too if their partners worked at LSE, but following the success of the dads' workshops, LSE created an equivalent just for women.
The workshops cover the emotional side of becoming a parent, society's and couples' changing expectations of the role of fathers, and how this affects the way men work. It also addresses practical issues, such as flexible working, which is lawfully open to all parents, but which men can feel less able to ask for than women.
"The main focus is on your personal impact, on creating positive relationships at work and on the process of flexible working," says HR adviser Natalie Pancheri, who has herself attended the workshops. The programme has recently been extended to give more time for networking, since participants felt this was one of the biggest benefits.
The workshops are publicised on the intranet, but employees are also actively invited to attend them when they inform HR that they are going on maternity or paternity leave. In fact, the workshops have become so popular that tailored variations have been created for carers of adults and for parents of disabled children.
Returning to work
A phased return to work is standard for parents returning to the LSE. Typically, returners use accrued leave to build up to their final working pattern over several weeks. What's more, any academic who has been absent for more than 26 weeks gets a teaching-free term to catch up on their research. This policy guards against indirect discrimination against women because the number of research papers academics publish affects their promotion prospects. Since women on maternity leave are by far the biggest group taking extended leave, they can be at a significant disadvantage if the clock measuring their allocation of research time is ticking away while they are on leave caring for a baby.
Flexible working options
Academic work lends itself to flexible hours, says Keeley, as research, writing, teaching preparation and marking can often be done anywhere. This is one reason why flexible working has been common at the LSE for several years, but a staff survey in 2012 was the first to ask a question about it. Results showed that 41 per cent of its 3,000 employees had some kind of flexible working arrangement and every department had at least one employee working flexibly. Typical arrangements were early or late starting, compressed weeks (for example, nine-day fortnights) and part-time or term-time-only working. A handful of people were in job shares.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that very few LSE academics have been refused flexible working - although they may not always get the exact pattern they ask for. HR is now beginning to track the outcomes of flexible working requests, although it's too early as yet to see patterns.
What Keeley does know, however, is that an impressive 89 per cent of women do return to work after having children. "They keep their maternity pay even if they don't return," she says, which means the return rate isn't skewed by women returning briefly just to retain their pay, and then leaving as soon as they can.
Among other provisions for new parents is the offer of a mentor, who is also a parent and who will help them deal with their new family situation at work. Thirteen people have been trained as mentors, including three men. They receive a day of training and regular refresher and group meetings. Each mentors up to three people, says Pancheri, who is a mentor herself.
There is also paid time off for people going through an adoption process, including those adopting abroad. And plans are afoot for parenting workshops in early 2014 to help parents with children under six deal with common problems.
The next big challenge for Keeley and her team will be devising procedures to deal with the new shared parental leave regulations in 2015. "There will be operational challenges," Pancheri says. "But we're keen for parents to share the leave."
How the law will change in 2015
Under the additional paternity leave rules, a woman can hand some of her maternity leave to the father once the baby is 20 weeks old. But if she does so, her entitlement to maternity leave for that child ends. (Note that the right to take additional paternity leave will be abolished when shared parental leave is in force.)
For the parents of babies due (or of children placed for adoption) on or after 5 April 2015 who meet the eligibility criteria there will be additional flexibility over leave arrangements to care for babies, including the right to:
- take three separate periods of shared parental leave in the first year of the child's life
- make the first switch from mother to father (or partner or joint adopter) when the baby is two weeks old (or four weeks, depending on the mother's occupation) at the end of the compulsory maternity leave period
- return to the same job, provided the total leave taken by the employee is 26 weeks or less
- take up to 20 'shared parental leave in touch' days (known as SPLIT days) in addition to the 10 KIT days that are available during maternity/adoption leave.
Employers will be entitled to eight weeks' notice of the first period of shared parental leave that an employee wishes to take, and will be able to refuse requests for non-continuous blocks of leave. Mothers must bring their maternity leave to an end by giving their employer a leave curtailment notice, and a notice of entitlement, before shared parental leave becomes available to the other parent.
The new arrangements are intended to encourage parents to share more leave and move away from the notion that time off for raising children is a "women's issue".
All legal information in this case study is correct at the date of publication. For the most up to date law in this area, click on the ‘employment law information’ link in the 'further information' section below.