More and more employers are making the business case for family-friendly workplace policies.
Several top-performing companies, including many on the Star Tribune’s Top Workplaces lists, already offer six weeks or more of paid leave as they try to retain parents. Led by technology and financial companies jockeying for talent, many have a more flexible workplace and more help with finding child care than a decade ago. The issue is getting renewed attention, thanks perhaps to advocacy from President-elect Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
Now many firms are going even further — all in an attempt to make 30- and 40-somethings happy. For example, starting Jan. 1, 3M changed its policy from 12 weeks unpaid leave to a total of 20 weeks, with 10 weeks of paid and 10 weeks of unpaid leave for both birth and adopting parents.
It’s not a surprise that companies are changing policies to retain — and recruit — employees who are starting families. Many of these employees are moving up the ranks, and it costs 1.5 to 2 times their salaries to replace senior leaders and 70 percent of their salaries for team members, according to WorkplaceDynamics, a Pennsylvania company that surveys companies about employee satisfaction and produces Top Workplaces lists in 45 markets.
The national accounting firm KPMG already had paid parental leave and flexible work policies on the books. But a few years ago, human resources managers started hearing how employees with families, especially new parents, were feeling out of sorts trying to balance the new needs of their households with the desire to succeed at work.
“We heard that the transition to parenthood is difficult. If we can help with that and ultimately retain the individual and help them re-engage in their career while feeling still successful in this new aspect of their life, parenthood, then it’s a win-win for everyone,” said Barbara Wankoff, KPMG’s executive director of diversity and inclusion.
As a result, the firm in 2014 added new-parent coaching. So far, 200 people have taken advantage of the service, said DeeAnne Watchmaker, associate director of human relations for the Minneapolis office. Employees can sign up for coaching sessions before a child is born, during leave to set up a transition back to work, and then afterward to help troubleshoot issues both at work and home.
Allison Tyra, a human resources manager in Minneapolis, said the coaching helped her tremendously. The phone call before she had her child helped her set priorities on setting up her clients, so she could “truly step away and give myself permission to stop checking e-mail.”
The coach also gave Tyra reality checks on what her expectations should be. Before she came back from her four months off — which was a combination of disability and 12 weeks of paid maternity leave — they talked about “how to dive back in,” including logistics of getting up to speed and how to re-engage with clients. The coach also brought up topics to make sure Tyra was ready, such as making sure child care plans were set, but also if she had tried on her work clothes to make sure they fit and worked out the drop-off schedule and home-chore responsibilities with her husband.
“It was certainly, I thought, very helpful,” Tyra said.
Other child-specific policies include not only a lactation room but providing the kits and services for when nursing women must travel for work.
As a whole, KPMG has learned that helping everyone with work/life balance helps the ship run more smoothly, Wankoff said. For example, when the firm starts a new project, managers are trained to ask what conflicts employees might have that need to be worked into the schedule. This can range from a week off for a family wedding to the need to leave at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays for an athletics league. As tasks are built into the project, these outside needs are accommodated.
The Robert Walters recruitment firm, in a survey from 2015, found that 52 percent of women believed difficulty returning to work after having children is one of the main reasons women are underrepresented in leadership. Among those surveyed, 80 percent felt flexible workplace policies would help and 26 percent said they were looking for a new job to improve work/life balance.
Many companies, especially those in competitive fields, have taken surveys like that to heart. General Mills, for example, has been lauded for its flexible hours and telecommuting options for professional workers. PricewaterhouseCoopers has been cited for its MentorMoms program, which matches new parents to older experienced workers with children.
Both KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers also have programs for parents who choose to take a break from their careers while their children are young. There are training opportunities and options to work during peak times for the companies.
Other companies have taken it a step further with “internships” for returning parents to help them catch up with any technology or regulation changes that occurred while they were caring for their children.
For example, several firms have a return-to-work program for anyone who has been away from work for an extended period. This could be caring for children or parents or because of a layoff.
For KPMG, the firm’s culture helps with recruiting. “We want to be an employer of choice, a place that supports new parents and a work/life mix that they want,” Wankoff said. “That helps in our recruiting efforts, that it’s the kind of place for all of our people.”