“Many of our employees have told us that they want more flexibility to focus on what’s important outside work, and one way we’re giving them that is to provide more paid time off,” she says.
Energy company Origin has increased paid parental leave to 20 weeks for primary carers, and four weeks for secondary carers. It has also removed a 12-month qualifying period for the leave which can be taken up to 24 months after a baby’s birth.
Fergus and Nicole Stuart met at Origin in Sydney more than seven years ago, married in 2016 and are expecting their third child in July.
Mrs Stuart plans to take 20 weeks of paid leave after the baby is born. Her husband will take four weeks off when the baby is born and the remaining 16 weeks after his wife returns to work. He says having 40 weeks of paid leave between them “is fantastic”.
“I think it gives a greater opportunity for the father to be the primary carer because the policy allows us to take that leave any time in the first 24 months after the child is born,” he said.
Mrs Stuart said financial pressures on families living in Sydney and the extra leave meant “more time to enjoy those special moments” with her children.
Eva Bauer at her office in Melbourne.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Eva Bauer, 30, who works for Origin in Melbourne said she will take 40 weeks of leave at half pay. She will take a total of 12 months off, with only two of those months unpaid.
“This definitely takes the financial pressure off so I can take 12 months off without stressing about needing to come back to work earlier,” she said.
“My husband just started his own business so this gives us a steady income and a good work-life balance.
“It allows you to be a mum while you have a career.”
Origin chief executive Frank Calabria said the new gender-neutral policies would better support all new Origin parents and “improve attraction and retention of the best talent”.
The new policy supports same-sex parents and covers birth, adoption, surrogacy and permanent fostering.
Ernst & Young (EY) now offers “Term Time” to staff so they can work five days a week during the school term and have the school holidays off as self-funded leave.
Julie McAdoo, who works for EY in Canberra, has booked 11 of the 12 weeks her three children aged 11 to 13 will be on school holidays during the next financial year.
“This means I get relaxed time to enjoy my children,” she said.
“When I first started working for EY my husband was at home with our kids so I was able to work full time and invest in my career,” she said.
“As our kids have got older, he has gone back to work full time.”
EY says flexibility is the number one driver of staff retention and increases engagement. “Flexible work policies like this are necessary because of increased competition for talent,” EY Oceania’s People Partner Kate Hillman said.
EY staff can take between six to 12 weeks of self-funded leave in one or two blocks. And they can temporarily work part-time for up to three months.
“We’re innovating so we don’t lose these people while they pursue passions outside of work,” Ms Hillman said.
“By next year, 80 per cent of EY’s workforce across the globe will be Millennials, so this is a particularly significant consideration for us.”
Human resources expert Sarah Kaine from UTS said technological change and a demand for flexible work mean some organisations will be in fierce competition for key staff in highly-skilled areas.
While other rewards were useful, providing a meaningful job and engaging work was the key to attracting and retaining staff.
“I think it is going to be a patchwork of approaches that we are going to see,” she said.
“I think there will be very specific sectors with very specific needs.
“I don’t suspect we are going to see five weeks of leave offered to hotel cleaners.”
PwC partner Dorothy Hisgrove said from July the company will pay full superannuation contributions to staff on up to 12 months of paid or unpaid parental leave. She said half the employees taking parental leave this year are men.
“Men and women are accessing the policy in equal numbers and that’s a big shift,” she said.
The parental leave policy covers all genders for birth, adoption, surrogacy, foster care and kinship care. The leave is also available to parents who have lost a child.
PwC offers primary carers up to 18 weeks’ paid parental leave, in a block or flexibly, and up to two years away from work.
Meraiah Foley, who specialises in work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney, said employers find flexible work initiatives “pay dividends to employers well in excess of costs”.
“We know from international surveys that a large majority of employees would choose greater flexibility and longer leave periods over higher pay,” she says.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.