For many years, parental leave has been a hotly debated debate across Asia. However, each country has their own unique approach to this issue. Some countries offer paid parental leave while others offer unpaid leave. The duration of the leave, both paid and unpaid, also varies between countries.
While parental leave is not a mandatory benefit in an employee’s benefits package, it could be the differentiator when it comes to attracting and retaining talents. Research from Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that offering paid parental leave tends to have strategic benefits, with 60% of surveyed employers reporting an increase in employee engagement and 58% indicating that it enhanced their ability to attract talent.
As organisations today adapt and respond to the pandemic, employers today are also facing a conundrum: how to attract and retain talent, improve employee well-being and promote an inclusive culture without bursting the even-more conservative HR budgets. As employees value well-being and diversity, equity and inclusion beyond just dollars and cents, new benefit programmes, such as paid parental leave, offer opportunities for employers to address these concerns.
Here are some key considerations when introducing paid parental leave as part of an employees’ benefits package:
Prior to rolling out any parental leave policies, it is imperative for organisations to understand the local statutory requirements and employees’ entitlements. For example, eligible parents in Singapore are entitled to government-paid shared parental leave. This scheme allows eligible working fathers, including self-employed fathers to share up to 4 weeks of their wife’s Government-Paid Maternity Leave. Similarly, in China, eligible mothers are entitled to 98 days of maternity leave and each province has the flexibility to add their own rules. Additionally, 15 days can be taken as prenatal leave.
These requirements serve as a baseline for employers to decide whether to provide supplementary parental leave benefits to the employees or not. Organisations can also decide to provide additional perks aside from additional parental benefits, such as discounts on milk powder purchases or diapers, or even shopping vouchers and gift cards at parent/child departmental stores.
Eligibility and coverage
As with every other type of leave offering, the eligibility and terms and conditions of this leave type needs to be clearly defined. Employees need to be aware of the eligibility criteria, prerequisites, and their entitlements. Employers also need to define clearly the number of days in which employees are eligible for paid leave. For example, to-be mothers in Singapore need to serve their employee for a continuous period of at least 3 months before the birth of the child in order to be eligible for the paid maternity leave.
These eligibility criteria and entitlements need to be documented in the employee handbook and communicated to employees prior to them taking the leave, to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Even with adequate family-friendly policies in place, the uptake of these paid parental leave can be low if the organisation does not foster an inclusive culture. Many employees, particularly men, do not take these leave due to fears of unspoken disapproval or perceived lack of dedication to their jobs.
By fostering a workplace culture that values family commitments and encourages a healthy balance between work and family, this could motivate employers to utilise the paid parental leave. This creates a brand reputation that the organisation is willing to put its people first and signals to top-level talents that the organisation is attuned to the modern workplace and its needs.
Pre-leave and re-entry support
A generous paid parental leave may be naught if employers do not have a strong pre-leave and re-entry support measure in place. Given that society and the economy evolves at a rapid pace, an extended period away from the workplace can be an alienating experience for new parents. Employers should consider offering pre-leave programmes that allow employees to reduce their workload gradually, as they manage the transition to welcoming a newborn. At the same time, it prepares colleagues for their departure instead of having to take on a huge workload at a short notice.
With the war for talent becoming increasingly competitive in today’s labour market, offering a robust paid parental leave programme can offer a competitive edge to the organisation’s recruiting strategy. It signals that the organisation is forward-thinking and invested in the long-term success of its employees. At the same time, it could be the catalyst to keeping some of the best talents within the organisation.