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The rise of inclusive parental leave policies: Why they are so important and how you can start

The rise of inclusive parental leave policies: Why they are so important and how you can start

Arina Sofiah explores the steps and best practices leaders from Publicis Groupe and the National University of Singapore are implementing to incorporate inclusive parental leave benefits.

According to recent research, 71% of employees surveyed in Asia are less likely to switch employers if offered over 10 benefits. On the other hand, of those who were offered 0 benefits, only 33% shared the same sentiment.

It is becoming clear that employees are prioritising a more holistic employee experience — and this comes with being offered the right benefits.

This would particularly include a growing focus on more inclusive and flexible parental leave. Further research shows that 47% of workers based in Singapore surveyed support equal parental leaveHowever, on the ground, not many workplaces were found to have offered more than six months' leave for new parents. Such disparity does impact the employee experience, with nearly one-third of the working parents surveyed having felt discriminated against for having children.

Done right, inclusive benefits such as parental leave help make your employees feel seen and valued, while also alleviating other areas of concern in their lives that may be impacting their wellbeing and work, ultimately contributing significantly to the overall employee experience.

It is therefore crucial to stay up-to-date and competitive with your benefits plans — but what does it even mean to have more inclusive benefits, and where do we start?

In this feature, Arina Sofiah explores the steps and best practices leaders from Publicis Groupe and the National University of Singapore are implementing to incorporate inclusive parental leave benefits.

How Publicis Groupe fosters a culture that genuinely supports every employee

At Publicis Groupe, an inclusive policy is more than just ticking off compliance boxes. Instead, it's about creating procedures that genuinely serve its employees' needs – not just going through the motions.

As Jolene Huang, Chief Talent Officer (pictured above, left), explains, when the group crafts an inclusive policy, it begins with a deep dive into the various challenges and needs of its different employees. The approach must also be flexible and keep pace with changing norms and expectations. As the policy is rolled it out, Huang emphasises, it is crucial to do more than pay lip service to inclusivity.

"We need to foster a culture that genuinely supports everyone. The policy becomes truly meaningful when we involve our employees in the process and provide the required resources and support.

"Simply put, a solid inclusive policy isn't just documented procedures and formalities – it's a living commitment to creating a supportive and empowering environment for all our employees."

As such, Publicis’ approach to parental leave goes beyond mere compliance with labour regulations. It strives to offer an enhanced system that acknowledges a wide range of family structures, including same-sex marriages/families and those with elderly parents and beloved pets. The group aims to provide support that is attuned to the evolving needs of its employees as they navigate different stages in their lives, starting from when they decide to start a family.

Huang also shares more on the most recent initiative. Publicis Groupe has incorporated provisions for additional time off for employees seeking fertility treatments. The design of this inclusive policy was informed by an extensive review of its internal demographics and direct feedback from employees regarding their unique needs and circumstances. This personalised approach has been well-received, fostering a more supportive and engaging work environment, Huang affirms.

Best practices – transparency and communication

In the dynamic advertising and media industry, Publicis Groupe's constant drive for innovation extends to how it effectively communicates policy changes and employee benefits. One prime example Huang shares is the implementation of specialised activation campaigns to generate interest and engagement with new policy modifications.

“However, transparency and open, two-way communication are of the utmost importance in our approach,” she points out.

Therefore, the organisation actively encourages and values employee feedback through various channels, such as open forums and surveys. Additionally, it equips line managers with the necessary knowledge and sensitivity to support their team members effectively.

That aside, the leadership team also recognises the need to periodically review and adapt the group's policies to align with evolving societal norms.

“While our journey towards fostering inclusivity has been positive, it has also been challenging.

“Nevertheless, these instances are valuable learning opportunities that keep us agile and dedicated to continuously improving our pursuit of an inclusive workplace.”

On a larger scale, this may signify the initial phases of a shift in the conversation around parental leave from being seen as a ‘benefit’ to being viewed as a fundamental right for employees, and a crucial component of a healthy work-life balance — which Huang has witnessed.

As she elaborates, the increasing focus on mental wellbeing, flexible work arrangements, and hybrid work models indicates a growing recognition of the essential nature of parental leave. Labour organisations and industry movements actively advocate for this change, acknowledging that such provisions are vital in helping employees successfully balance their work and personal responsibilities.

“Our role is to continue to support and accelerate this shift in mindset within the organisation. Our responsibility is to ensure that our policies align with this significant societal and organisational change, reinforcing the importance of parental leave and its integration into our workforce.”

Employee benefits regardless of background or circumstances at the National University of Singapore

It is evident that an inclusive policy also means implementing practices and guidelines that ensure equal opportunities, fair treatment, and representation for all employees, regardless of their background or circumstances. It seeks to create a level playing field, foster a sense of belonging, and empower individuals, Dr Janson Yap, Chief People Officer, National University Singapore (NUS) (pictured above, right), tells us. It also involves creating an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and included, and where diverse perspectives and contributions are embraced.

At NUS, leave benefits for employees with children who are non-Singapore citizens have been "greatly enhanced" beyond the statutory provision under the Singapore Employment Act. Dr Yap shares, eligible employees with children who are non-Singapore citizens are currently able to apply for the same number of days of maternity/adoption/paternity/childcare leave as those with children who are Singapore citizens.

"Our employees with newborns, regardless of citizenship or gender, can also claim a lump sum maternity benefit to help defray delivery expenses."

Come 1 January 2024, NUS will also be doubling the paternity leave for all eligible employees, ahead of government legislation.

Recognising that parental leave can apply not only to employees who are parents, NUS also extends its family care leave policy to employees who need to take care of their parents and other immediate family members. Its comprehensive medical insurance benefit also allows for employees to cover dependants such as their partners and children.

As Dr Yap affirms, "this demonstrates that NUS values the diverse needs and responsibilities of its employees."

Specific to the university environment, it also allows female faculty members to request an extension to their tenure clock for reasons related to pregnancy/childbirth/adoption. For clarity, 'tenure clock' refers to a designated time period during which a faculty member must demonstrate their qualifications and meet specific criteria in order to be considered for tenure.

Apart from the extension, they may also apply for teaching relief of up to one semester per childbirth – a provision that goes over and above that of maternity leave.

According to Dr Yap, the above initiatives are made possible only through the NUS leadership’s commitment to inclusivity, active engagement and listening, and a genuine desire to create a supportive and inclusive work environment for all employees.

“We believe in the positive impact of such benefits on the retention, engagement, and productivity of employees with caregiving responsibilities.

“We want to remain responsive to the evolving needs of our workforce, and the continuous review and updates to our policies are an integral part of our university’s commitment to supporting the wellbeing of our employees.”

Key takeaways

It is clear that the conversation around the importance of inclusive benefits is shifting — it is not a mere want for employees, but now a need. Going beyond the basic checklist of benefits requirements is a simple, yet essential, way to ensure they feel a sense of belonging at your organisation. It is also key in ensuring a healthy work-life balance.

Organisations who have not started expanding their parental leave plans may risk having their employees feel undervalued, potentially even losing them in the long run. For leaders unsure of what you can do, a simple start with enhancing paternity leave for eligible employees or even comprehensive medical insurance benefit as seen above may possibly help set you off in the right direction. In addition, support for caregivers in all forms - be it parents, adoptive parents, immediate family members, those with ageing parents, or with beloved pets - is sure to welcomed as a affirmative action towards inclusivity.

From there, the benefits plan may grow, with proper two-way communication and feedback that involves your family. 

After all, a solid inclusive policy goes beyond mere documented procedures and formalities.

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Lead image / Provided (L-R: Jolene Haung, Chief Talent Officer, Publicis Groupe and Dr Janson Yap, Chief People Officer, National University Singapore)

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