The Mother’s Day budget announcement that parents would not be eligible for paid parental leave from both the government and their employer was saddening to say the least. This counter-intuitive policy shows the government is disregarding research around the benefits of quality time in the first year where mothers can bond and establish breastfeeding with their child.
Apart from supporting campaigns to encourage the government to revisit their policy there is wider responsibility the business community should acknowledge. PPL, combined with other programs to support and help retain staff, have real impacts on productivity and make employees happier and more engaged. These should be part of the push to address gender equity in the workplace and support working parents, contributing to the economy especially mothers. Here are five things businesses can consider:
1. Internships for parents to return to work after a career break
Employers since the dawn of time having been using internships as a ‘try before they buy’ short term program to recruit graduates. It saves a bucket in recruitment costs, recruits skilled staff and the participants have an opportunity to find out what it’s really like on the ‘inside’. Some internships are paid and others are not, but the idea is that both the candidate and the employer benefit from the opportunity. For mums it can be a confidence builder, an opportunity to rule in or out a career direction and a chance to reflect on the skills and experience developed as a former full time worker and more recently a mum. The Fair Work Act would need to be amended to accommodate unpaid internships for parents but what is to stop organisations from implementing paid internships now?
2. Help with child care
Childcare is an emotive issue for many first time parents. Compound that with an impending return to work date and no response from the local childcare service, things become very stressful. Employers can ease this stress through on-site childcare, guaranteed childcare spots or support with childcare costs. If parents are unhappy with their child care choices they find it difficult to focus, are less productive and find their work and home relationships suffer. A parent accessing quality childcare has a direct impact on a successful transition back to work for parents.
3. Offer (genuine) flexibility
You can’t talk about flexibility in a workplace without some organisations considering substantial cultural change. Leaving before 6:00pm in some organisations would be seen as a lack of commitment. But many organisations are moving away from ‘face time’ being a measure of productivity. Flexibility can be offered in terms of hours, place of work, type of contract and type of work. Organisations that employee these benefits successfully, know and understand their employees, how they work and establish flexibility built around their strengths and weaknesses.
4. Career development support
Having a baby is a huge transitional point in a mother’s life and most times, her career too. No matter how long you have taken off after having a baby, life has fundamentally changed. It can make parents think differently about their roles, organisation and contribution to society and responsibility to their new child. There is also the added layer of emotions, which may be anything from wild jubilation at returning to their role through to guilt and the stress. Having a supportive program built into Parental Leave can provide organisations with mechanisms to touch base, provide support and direction to the new mum and opportunities to address issues like, flexibility, career direction, workload. It can be time of reflection where programs can provide opportunities for re-training or updating skills in order to build confidence in preparation for a return to work.
5. Rename PPL Entitlements to be a return to work incentive scheme
Employers could use some of Google or Apple’s creative channelling to allow parents access to both schemes even if the legislation is passed through the Senate. Employer contributions could be re-packaged as a Double Irish Dutch Back to Work sandwich, a return to work ‘bonus’ or a professional development contribution. Employers are offering these policies to incentivise a return to work for their employees. They have made a significant investment in developing and training their staff and they want to develop a long-term return on their investment, which is what Paid Parental Leave offers. Neither parents nor employers should be penalised for offering incentivised program which directly impact women’s labour participation rate.
Rebecca McIntosh has been blogging on childcare for 12 months at www.daycaredecisions.com.au and developing a start-up to search and waitlist children for childcare, Daycare Decisions through the iLab incubator program. This story originally appeared on Women’s Agenda.