Working life is tough when you're the primary carer for a baby. Leaving your precious newborn in care is heart wrenching, but an economic reality for many Kiwi families.
Parental leave has been in the news of late thanks to a bold move by Vodafone. The company's head office in the UK decided it would offer 16 weeks paid parental leave for the main caregiver for Vodafone workers worldwide. Vodafone will also offer the parent full pay for working a reduced 30-hour week for six months after return to work.
Vodafone estimates its move will save parents around $1800 in child care in the first six months back and allow the parent to spend an additional 240 hours with his or her child.
In the past 20 years according to Statistics New Zealand labour force participation by women here has increased from 54.5 per cent to 63.3 per cent . That shift has been helped by improvements to statutory parental leave.
Statutory paid parental leave increased to 16 weeks in New Zealand from April 1 this year, and will be extended to 18 weeks on April 1, 2016. However the IRD, not employers, make the payment capped at $504.10 a week, which is lower than many parents would have been earning.
Some companies, such as Vodafone and Coca Cola Amatil, continue to pay workers on parental leave from their own pockets, going above and beyond the statutory leave requirements for their working parents.
Launching the policy globally Vodafone Group's chief executive Vittorio Colao said too many talented women leave working life because they face a difficult choice between either caring for a newborn or maintaining their careers.
Family-friendly working conditions also help parents of young children. These measures don't need to cost a fortune. In a report on maternity policies the International Labour Organization (ILO) said family-friendly policies can be low cost. An example is offering office space where children can do their homework or other activities,
Coca Cola has family rooms in its New Zealand offices. National HR manager sales & marketing Louisa Buchanan has brought her pre-schooler Ruby into the office several times.
"I went on parental leave with her through Coke and took 11 months off." She was paid for the first six weeks at her ordinary rate and could accrue regular and long service leave while away. On return she was able to work part-time and use accrued holiday days to make up full-time pay.
What's more, Buchanan received pay rises and promotions while on parental leave, which meant she didn't fall behind male colleagues in pay and promotion parity. "[The policies] make Coke such a more attractive employer," she says. Her employer's family-friendly policies have kept Buchanan at the company.
Policies such as those of Coca Cola and Vodafone acknowledge it costs more to employ and train a replacement worker than it does to give paid parental leave and look for ways to support the parent back into work.
It's often perceived corporates such as Vodafone have bigger pockets and can afford generous parental leave policies. SMEs fear the time and costs will lead to competitive disadvantage, the ILO said.
The report noted there is emerging evidence that workplace parental leave measures can lead to, and sustain, positive enterprise-level outcomes in SMEs.
Equal Employment Opportunities Trust chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie says contrary to popular belief improved parental leave isn't just something for the larger organisations.
"We believe, what it really comes down to is a simple equation of not creating policies or developing initiatives because it 'seems like the right thing to do', but embracing diversity and making it part of business as usual because that is what you must do to stay competitive and relevant in New Zealand's ever changing market place with a looming labour shortage."
One SME that can see the light regarding parental leave is planning and environmental consultancy Andrew.Stewart Limited.
Staff on parental leave keep the tools they need to work remotely including laptops, mobiles, and access to the network. They are also included in company communications and events while on leave.
When parents go back to work their children are made welcome in the office.
Andrew.Stewart recognises the global skills shortage in its field and sees the need to support the needs of its existing workforce, co-founder Aaron Andrew says. Senior planner Rebecca Harrison had a 3-year-old when she was approached to work for Andrew.Stewart. She was asked "what would work for you?" "I worked flexible hours from the office and from home and the arrangement suited me perfectly," she says.
Research from the University of Sydney's Economics and Business faculty found businesses such as Westpac and Holden improved their retention rates after the introduction of paid maternity leave. The report cited United States research that found that women with access to paid leave worked later into pregnancy and returned sooner.
The ILO found that good parental leave policies also mitigated absenteeism, enhanced organisational commitment and staff motivation and improved relations among employees.
Vodafone's decision was based on a KPMG report that indicated the company could save $19 billion annually worldwide through offering 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave.