Best Practices

Phase-Back and Return to Work Trends and Best Practices

March 2020

Extended parental leave benefits and flexible return-to-work policies are increasingly becoming the norm in the growing competition to attract and keep top talent.

Return-to-work and Phased Return programs reconnect workers with needed skills and provide flexibility and support as they plug back into the professional world after they’ve had a break in their career.

Returnships & Phased Back to Work

Women often report that the transition back to work is difficult and many feel disconnected and disengaged
upon their return. According to research by Maven, 75% of expecting mothers say they’re excited to go back to
work after giving birth. But in the end, 43% of them end up leaving their jobs. Offering support during the
transition back to work can help improve retention of talented female employees and ensure that they don’t
have to choose between having children and working for your company.

Extended parental leave benefits and flexible return-to-work policies are increasingly becoming the norm in
the growing competition to attract and keep top talent. Return-to-work and Phased Return programs reconnect workers with needed skills and provide flexibility and support as they plug back into the professional world after they’ve had a break in their career.

In the 2019 Working Mother 100 Best Companies, 84% of companies reported that they offer phase-back or
reduced hours programs following pregnancy; the average number of weeks offered for phasing back to work among the top companies is 13 weeks.

According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2019 Best Practices in Health Care Survey, more than 1 in 4 employers
currently offer child-care support services, backup day care and child-care subsidies, with 13% considering
these benefits for 2021.

Offering support during the transition back to work can help improve retention of talented female employees and ensure that they don’t have to choose between having children and working for your company.

Flex options some companies offer include:
• Remote work
• Compressed work weeks
• Reduced hours
• Job sharing
• Graduated return to work programs

Strategies to Consider

Get Input from Employees

To be successful, benefits must be relevant and responsive to the needs of employees – all employees. To gather employee input, many companies hold regularly scheduled meetings or conduct ad hoc focus groups to discuss work-life priorities and frame benefits and work-life strategies It is important that data collection efforts fully engage employees across diversity dimensions and in different life- and career-stages.

Lead by Example

The behaviors of company leadership can have a significant impact on how employees view and embrace work- life integration. In a Harvard Business Review study of employees across global locations, only 25% of employees reported that their company leaders modeled sustainable work-life practices. Simply stating the company supports work-life integration isn’t enough. Business leaders need to ‘walk the talk’ and demonstrate their own commitment to achieving work-life equilibrium: this means taking advantage of the same benefits and leave options offered to employees.

Establish & Promote Work-Life Policies

Unless properly managed, differences in beliefs and expectations about work-life integration can lead to discord and resentment. Business leaders need to develop clear work-life policies, communicate the benefits of effective work-life integration to the organization and the individual, and strongly encourage employees to utilize available work-life supports. In the absence of formal policies and a clear articulation of company expectations, employees reluctant to participate in new business practices may resent workers who take advantage of those practices, and managers may view those same workers as less committed to their job.

Communication & Open Dialogue

Maintaining communication and contact with employees who are on leave for an extended period is crucial. Employers often unintentionally lose contact with employees and fail to keep them current on events and changes in the workplace and in the industry. Long periods of parental leave without consistent communication may pose challenges when the employee returns to work, particularly if companywide changes have occurred that will impact the employee and the work they perform.

EY has made communication a formal part of the company’s leave and return-to-work policy. The company
provides mandatory training and coaching to all line managers – even senior managers receive six hours of oneon-one coaching. Women are provided group coaching and attend webinars on ‘Pre-maternity’ (before leave);
the ‘Juggling Act’ (0-six months after birth), and ‘Managing Your Career’ (six+ months following return). After
12 months of launching the training and coaching series, the percentage of women returning to work after
maternity leave rose from 80% to 94%, and saved the company an estimated $35.5m in attrition costs.

Barclays provides ongoing support for working parents and engages line managers to ensure the progress is
sustainable and wide-reaching. Coaching sessions are provided pre, during and post maternity for women,
men, and their line managers. An on-line portal is available 24/7 to ensure support. The company offers heavily
subsidized back up care, in home help, and child care. Because of these supports, the company saw a 7%
increase in retention, which they estimate provided $3.28m in attrition savings.

Building Leave Equity for All Employees

“Like so many companies before us, my company, Rent the Runway, had two tiers of workers. Our salaried
employees — who typically came from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds—were given generous
parental leave, paid sick leave and the flexibility to work from home, or even abroad. Our hourly employees,
working in Rent the Runway’s warehouse, on the customer service team and in our retail stores, had to face life
events like caring for a newborn, grieving after the death of a family member or taking care of a critically ill
loved one without this same level of benefits. I had inadvertently created classes of employees—and by
doing so, had done my part to contribute to America’s inequality problem.

But over the years, I began to reflect on how the system that I and others had constructed may have been
perpetuating deep-seated social problems. Last month, I equalized benefits for all of our employees at Rent the Runway. Our warehouse, customer service and store employees now have the same bereavement, parental leave, family sick leave and sabbatical packages that corporate employees have.” – Jennifer Y. Hyman, co-founder of Rent the Runway

Company Benchmarks

PwC’s Parental Leave benefit allows new parents (both men and women) to transition back to a part-time schedule for the first few weeks, if they feel it will help them. The company return to work policy allows employees to transition back to work by giving them the option to work 60% of hours, at full-time pay, for an additional four weeks immediately following paid parental leave.

To further ease back into the workplace after being away, Intuit offers Intuit Again, which helps returning employees refresh their skills through a 16-week supported, structured program providing technical training and on-the-job experience.

Netflix implemented an unlimited parental leave policy for full-time salaried employees, and paid maternity leave for its hourly employees. Under the unlimited parental leave policy, expectant mothers and fathers can take as much time as they need to get their work done, according to a

Netflix spokesperson who describes their culture as one of “freedom and responsibility” that also
allows new parents to figure out the time they need to bond with their new child. Most take
anywhere from four to eight months.

BP’s Returnship Program, hosted in partnership with The Mom Project, gives women and men who go out on extended family or personal leave the professional development and engagement support they need to reenter the workforce. The extensive, structured program is comprised of a curated track across various work teams that focuses on a series of project-based assignments to provide returning professionals with robust, comprehensive learning experiences. Throughout the program, each professional will also have networking and mentorship opportunities to further enhance their experience. The program is a compensated, full-time commitment and professionals have potential opportunities for full-time roles at BP at its conclusion.

Through Estee Lauder’s Paid Parental Leave and Back-to-Work Flexibility Policies, eligible employees (irrespective of gender and including parents adopting or fostering children), will be able to take 20 weeks of Paid Parental Leave at full pay and six weeks of back-to-work flexibility to allow all working parents to bond with their new child(ren) and transition back to work. This benefit is in addition to the Short Term Disability benefits typically available to mothers for six to eight weeks following childbirth.

Noodles & Company is launching an innovative benefit that allows expectant mothers and mothers who have recently given birth to phase out of work and then back in while receiving full salary. Under the new benefit, eligible new mothers, in addition to receiving six weeks of paid maternity leave, can work an 80% schedule during the four weeks before and the four weeks after maternity leave while receiving full pay. The benefit is available to assistant general managers and above who work full time. Eligible fathers and other nonbirth parents receive two weeks of paternity/bonding leave.

Reynolds American announced a revised parental leave policy that offers 16 weeks of fully paid leave for employees who are new mothers or fathers and the ability to take up to eight months of a flexible work arrangement. The policy applies to all regular, full-time employees, including salaried and hourly workers, following the birth or permanent placement of a child. Taken in full, the policy provides up to one full year of support for parents to bond with, and care for, their new child, while continuing to balance their professional goals.

Vodafone offers 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave to all its workers. In addition, for the first six months following their return from maternity leave, new mothers can work 30 hours a week – at full pay. Unlike flexible work policies that many women must individually negotiate with their managers, or reduced-hours arrangements that also reduce salary, the benefit helps women phase back into their jobs without disrupting income or career. Talent retention was one of the goals Vodafone had in mind when it designed the new policy: in the past, 65% of women who left the company following maternity leave did so within the first year. On a global level, women comprise roughly 35% of Vodafone’s employees, but only 21% of the company’s global senior leadership team. Vodafone believes its enhanced maternity policy will play an important role in bridging that gap. By the end of March 2021, Vodafone’s parental leave will be available to all non-birthing parents—regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or length of service – across Vodafone’s 24 markets and operations in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the US.

Strategy& offers new mothers given access to a program that offers them a more family-friendly role at the firm for their first six months back to work, such as internal staff roles or client-facing work without travel. The benefit moved the burden of negotiating a flexible return-to-work schedule away from the employee by guaranteeing it as part of the benefit package. During the six-month period, the employees required ‘billable hours’—a key metric for consultants—is guaranteed, affording the employee protection on their bonus during the transition period.

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