“As is the norm, to kick off my research for this article I had a browse around Google. I was very interested to read the headline of one of the most recent publications: ‘Our workplaces are about as family friendly as a 19th century mill’. On the more positive side, another article talked about the positive impact of family friendly policies on business results and commitment at work.
So what’s the reality? How family friendly are businesses in the UK and how does that compare to the rest of the world?
Family friendly policies are more and more commonplace in the UK, driven in some part by supportive employment law requirements, but also due to the growing recognition of the value that maternity returners can bring to an organisation, and the need for both parties to work together to make it work. Similarly, businesses are increasingly understanding of the growing contribution of fathers, and the need to adapt to that. Many firms take a healthy view that maintaining key workers through child-related and parental incentives help retain their key people. If you have invested in the development and education of your best people the most cost effective thing to do is not to lose them. This is recognised across the Western World with many countries awarding their top family friendly companies to work for. There is still a lot that countries and businesses within those countries can do to support their working parents but the tide in the UK, at least, is gradually turning.
As the UK HR Director for the L’Oreal Consumer Products Division (looking after L’Oréal Paris, Garnier, Maybelline and Essie brands) I am well placed to speak about the ‘journey’ that we have been on over the past 10 years. Our workforce in L’Oreal UK & Ireland is currently 64% female with 64% of our country management also being female. Worldwide 59% of our managers are female. And yet when I joined the UK team 15 years ago, we were lacking examples of mothers in senior jobs who were able to fulfil their potential, yet be present for their families. It felt like it was either-or. Whilst we did everything we could to support our parents on an ad hoc basis, we didn’t have the policies to make this a consistent reality. Following extensive employee surveys, competitive reviews and analysis of exit interviews and ad hoc feedback from our population, we realised that in order to be a forward thinking, productive and happy workplace, we needed to move with the times and make some big changes.
This is not just a UK phenomenon. L’Oréal Group, as part of its ‘Share and Care’ programme, has committed to a series of mandatory social benefits for all employees worldwide by 2015, one of which is 14 weeks maternity leave at full pay. Five years after creating one of L’Oréal’s first kindergartens, L’Oreal Germany created its new “Family Services” programme. Made available at the end of 2012 to 2,000 employees across the country, this programme provides telephone support services and face-to-face guidance to assist them in caring for children or elderly parents and support them with any other family problem: finding a suitable childcare facility or retirement home, obtaining last-minute solutions to babysit a sick child, making an appointment with a psychologist or financial expert, and more. Initial feedback after the first 12 months shows that already 10% to 12% of employees use the programme, 84% of them being women.
In UK and Ireland, we kicked off with the more obvious improvements: a greatly enhanced maternity policy which offers 6 months full pay, an improved paternity offering, a detailed analysis to ensure that our pay offering is the same for males and females in the workplace (it was then, and still is), offering part time positions and amended hours where possible…
To help us work on the ‘what next?’ we formed a Parents Group and asked them for their ideas. There were 3 key areas of feedback: more flexibility around working hours, support for first time mothers, and information for mums and dads on, for example, developmental milestones.
It wasn’t just parents that were feeding back on the desire to work in a more ‘agile’ way – most employees were crying out for an organisation that rewards what they achieve rather than the hours spent in the office, so we launch ‘WorkSmart: It’s not when and where, it’s what and how’, meaning that our employees no longer have set hours, rather objectives that need to be met. Naturally, this philosophy has gone down very well with our parents who may want to drop off, pick up or attend school events.
The other two areas of feedback were interesting for us, as we had not realised that this was a burning need for our parents. In order to meet these requests, we have joined forces with ‘Parental Choice’ who are supporting us in setting up relevant talks for our parents (for example how to deal with temper tantrums) which are very well attended, as well as regular newsletters that allows us to communicate family initiatives directly to our working parents and providing childcare searches to ensure all working parents at L’Oreal are supported whatever age their children might be. We’ve had feedback that this offering makes our employees feel that we are taking their new life stage and their family’s welfare seriously and it is truly appreciated.
So how do we build on this? The next stage is to integrate families more into the L’Oreal culture, and to do this we are going to hold a ‘Family Day’ in October, which will be an opportunity for parents to bring their children for a party and for us to give something back and to showcase the many families that we have in L’Oreal who are making it family and career work. It is important to us and L’Oreal worldwide that we are family friendly and we recognise and support the talent and experience that we have. Businesses in the UK are becoming more family friendly and we hope that we are setting an example of how successful and worthwhile that can be for businesses and working parents alike.”