Organisations are expanding benefits offered by parental leave policies

27 September 2016 7 min. read

The changing demands of employees is, alongside the growing battle for talent and the continued drive for good employership, spurring corporates globally to improve their HR strategies around child care. While maternity leave has been well embedded for some time now, HR executives are increasingly expanding the scope of and benefits offered by their parental leave policies. As a result, paternity, adoption and family care schemes are enjoying growing acceptance.

A new study by Mercer (‘Global Parental Leave’), based on respondents from over 50 countries, finds that over the past few years a growing number of organisations globally have been expanding their HR policies for parental leave – paid or unpaid leave provided to care for a newly born or adopted child. Today, 36% of companies have a global policy in place for parental leave, up from less than 30% years ago. A further 12% of corporates surveyed says they are seriously considering establishing one in the years to come.

Overview of Parental Leave Policies

Maternity leave

Together with the growing adoption of a corporate-wide parental leave strategy, firms are also enlarging the scope of their policies, with down the line more benefits being passed on to employees. Not surprisingly, maternity leave is the most included form of leave at companies that host a global programme – on the back of the heritage that such leave is made available for mothers to care for their new-born in the months following childbirth. The benefits related to maternity leave however vary considerably across regions, countries and states, as eligibility requirements for statutory maternity leave are typically postulated by ‘local’ legislation.

Companies can however offer more generous maternity policies than the statutory ruling, often with the aim of stimulating a good workplace. Previous research from Mercer for instance found that the average maternity leave period for mothers can range from anywhere between 49 weeks in Norway to a meagre 9 weeks in the UAE. Across the board, employees worldwide have nevertheless witnessed a significant increase in maternity benefit generosity.

Leave Types Included in Global Policies - Percentage by Companies

Mercer’s 2016 Global Parental Leave report finds that, of the companies that have a maternity leave scheme in place, 64% provide the benefit to the birth mother only. 24% have opened the scheme’s eligibility requirements to include that of the primary caregiver (regardless of gender), while 12% rule that the primary caregiver is only eligible if the person is female. In comparison, organisations have a slightly more progressive policy in place for paternity leave (the time a father takes off work at the birth or adoption of a child), with 54% of firms only allowing the birth father to make use of policies, while 34% open up their scheme to take into account the rights of the primary caregiver, regardless of gender. 

Maternity Leave Eligibility - Worldwide

Paternity leave

On average, paternity leave is the second most offered policy of the four main types of parental leave – maternity, paternity, adoption and family care – at companies with a global scheme in place, at 76%. Paternity leave is, contrary to maternity leave, not a statutory requirement in many countries, but the study finds that globally and regionally, approximately one-third of companies (38%) provide paid paternity leave above the statutory minimum to their employees, typically between two to five days at the time of birth.

US-based companies are the most advanced in offering paternity leave above the statutory requirement, followed by organisation located in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. The top ten is rounded off by India, Hong Kong, Argentina, Singapore, Japan and Ireland.

Countries with best paternity leave schemes

Going forward its use is foreseen to become more prevalent, to help grow inclusivity among the workforce, especially as the definition of families continues to progress to include same-sex parents. The majority of organisations surveyed with a paternity leave programme in place say they are contemplating on increasing the number of paternity days, although significant variations exist in the time frame of their plans. The high-tech and banking sectors have drafted the most reformist plans – more than 10% of the companies in these two sectors state they are planning to raise the time fathers can take off for child care. Two sectors stand out as the least likely to restructure: mining & metals and transport & equipment.

 Improvements in paternity leave by industry

Attitudes toward fathers taking paternity leave are shifting too, with nearly half of the organisations indicating that “most” of their eligible fathers (or the primary caregivers) are using their statutory paternity leave, while 49% are inclined to make use of additional company-provided days. To support furthers’ uptake, 42% of the respondents state that their enterprise is actively encouraging fathers to embrace the available schemes in place.

Attitudes towards paternity leave

Adoption leave

The authors further find that more than one-quarter (29%) of companies worldwide provide adoption leave beyond what is required by law – this practice is highest in the Americas and lowest in Asia Pacific. Again the US is the most progressive country, and the positions between number two to four go to the same nations as for paternity leave: Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. Argentina slots a fifth position, with India, Mexico, Ireland, South Africa and Singapore closing the top ten countries that lead the pack when it comes adoption schemes.

Regions with best adoption leave schemes

Furthermore, when asked how they handle adoption leave for same-sex couples, 87% of companies indicate the leave is handled in the same manner as opposite-sex couples. “Adoption leave, like other leaves, helps employers accommodate more diverse family structures, which are now commonplace among their employee population,” comments Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Talent business.

The Top Ten Countries Providing Paternity Leave

Family care leave

Family care leave, which provides employees with time-off (either paid or unpaid) to care for their loved ones, is offered to their employees by two-thirds (67%) of companies worldwide. Although this includes all types of care, including for their spouse, parents, parents-in-law or siblings, it frequently includes care for their children. 97% of the family care schemes in place specify policies for care of employee’s children, while also care for an opposite-sex spouse and parents are much included, at 89% and 85% respectively. While the length of paid leave is typically only a few days, some countries and corporates allow for an extended period of unpaid family leave.

Family members covered by family leave schemes

Reflecting on the key trends in the corporate child care landscape, Bonic says that, besides wider adoption of the classic variants, parental leave policies are gradually expanding beyond traditional maternity leave provisions to include ‘non-traditional’ types of leave. Examples range from parental leave for part-time employees and support programmes for stakeholders (parents, employees, and managers) to time off to recover from miscarriage (separate from sick leave) and time away to care for children with special needs.

Establishing good policies should however not just be seen as a good for employees, it ultimately is likely to also prove fruitful to employers themselves. Bonic: “Parental leave policies can have a positive effect on both employees and employers – they help the workforce maintain a better work-life balance, especially the younger generation, and they promote the company as a more attractive place to work.” In particular in light of the growing battle for highly-skilled talent globally, she highlights the latter can provide a highly welcomed boost to retention rates and to the attractiveness of the company in the labour market.