99designs joins growing ranks of Australian employers to offer expanded parental leave

99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn

99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn. Source: supplied.

Australian-grown tech startup 99designs has significantly expanded its parental leave policies, in a move that sees it join a growing number of Australian employers that now offer extended periods of paid leave to their entire teams. 

The Melbourne-headquartered company, which was founded in 2008 and is now known as 99designs by Vistaprint after it was acquired by Vistaprint’s parent company Cimpress in October 2020, will offer all new parents and guardians 18 weeks of leave at full pay, plus superannuation. 

This leave will not be conditional on an employee’s length of service, with employees in Australia and the US only needing to have worked for the company for one day before being eligible. 

Parents will be able to use the leave flexibly at any time within the first 18 months of their child’s life, and superannuation contributions will continue to be paid during any additional unpaid leave that is taken during this time. 

99designs is also removing internal distinctions between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ caregivers for the purpose of its parental leave policies, which will also be available to adoptive parents, those in surrogacy arrangements or other family structures, and those who experience a stillbirth or neonatal death.

The changes form part of a bigger suite of policies that 99designs has recently introduced in response to the pandemic, including a framework for promoting asynchronous work and more flexible working hours across the business. Employees will also receive annual bonuses of $605 to spend on their personal wellbeing and $300 to spend on home workspaces. 

‘How do we amplify it?’

While the more generous paid parental leave schemes have more commonly been found at the big end of town, recent policies introduced by the likes of social media startup Linktree and furniture retailer Brosa show this is changing as workplaces strive to become more flexible and inclusive.

At the same time, Australian tech companies are increasingly prioritising the wellbeing of their teams during the pandemic, including by offering ‘tools down days’, or like Envato, temporarily moving to shorter working weeks

Patrick Llewellyn, chief executive of 99designs by Vistaprint, tells SmartCompany the change is a “natural progression” for the business, which has talked about evolving its parental leave policies for some time. 

In particular, Llewellyn says the business is passionate about moving away from ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer titles but it took time to develop the right policies to suit all families. The acquisition by Vistaprint aided in this process, however, as it gave the business more capacity to invest in programs to support its rapidly growing team, which has doubled in size to 185 in 12 months. 

At the same time, Llewellyn says he has been “inspired by the next generation of parents” within the 99designs team, with many dads choosing to utilise extra leave or move to part-time hours to spend more time with their children. 

One such dad is 99designs creative director Tristan Le Breton, who took leave when his baby was born five months ago and plans to take a longer period of leave later this year. He told SmartCompany the flexibility of the policy is an “absolute game-changer for a great work and family life balance”. 

“I can make it work for me and my family, and fit work around my lifestyle, not the old-school other way around,” he says. 

In one respect, the 99designs team approached it as they would product development, says Llewellyn. They could see a certain behaviour emerging by “observing a product in the wild” and wanted to find a way to “amplify it”. 

“It’s about supporting each other and the family unit, in any way that family unit presents itself, so that people have some capacity to get back to whatever it is they want to pursue,” he says. 

While Llewellyn acknowledges returning to work after taking parental leave will be different for all employees, he wants to bring a “normalcy” to the practice. And he believes it has never been “so important” for businesses to put their people first as we continue to adjust to the new post-pandemic work environment. 

It’s why it was important that 99designs employees who take parental leave still get superannuation contributions, and why they can also choose to utilise flexible ‘keeping in touch’ days while on leave.

“We’re trying to create a fluidity and sense of connection, so that people don’t feel like get left behind,” he adds. 

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