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Alissa Davis, Head of Reward and Policy at Vodafone, returned to work from a year off on maternity leave just one day before the company’s new global maternity policy came into effect. She had already been made aware of it by HR when she came in to talk about her return to work and had mentioned that she wanted to come back on reduced hours. Under the new policy, she can do 80% of her hours, that is, a four-day week, and get full pay for the first six months.
She says she will decide at the end of the six months whether she will then ask to continue on reduced hours. “When I was thinking of returning I wasn’t sure what hours would work for me. I am able now to try four days a week without any financial impact and see how it fits with my life or I could decide I want to go back full time. At the moment having a three-day weekend is making a massive difference to my family,” she says.
Alissa’s daughter goes to nursery a couple of days a week and is with her grandparents for one day and with her husband for another day. “I was keen for her to go to nursery to learn social skills, but not for five days a week. I want her to have time with people she knows and to build a relationship with the family,” she says.
Even if, in six months’ time, she opts for full-time hours, she knows she will have a lot of flexibility, for instance, to work from home some of the time and from different locations. All Vodafone staff have laptops and, outside of retail and customer services, core hours are from 10am-3pm and other hours can be worked flexibly as long as work targets are being hit. Even in retail and customer services there is room for creativity and flexibility.
This year Vodafone, who are one of Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employers, introduced self managed teams who can create their own rotas. It also organised roadshows encouraging flexible working and supporting material such as e-books and videos as well as manager guidelines about starting conversations.
The brief of Alissa’s team includes employee relations and they have done some focus group work with maternity returners. They are, for instance, looking at how to simplify processes such as the fact that in the last three unpaid months of maternity leave women have had to continue contributing to their employee benefits package and have had the money taken out of their first pay package on return to work.
“That has a big impact. We want to give people the option to freeze the benefits package or to phase the deduction process over the first three months when they are back at work,” says Alissa.
She adds that, having now been through the maternity leave process herself, she would like to look more closely at further ways to support returnees, for instance, giving them more information about the different forms of parental leave they can take if their child is ill or providing mentors and a community to debate the issues they are facing.
“I want to explore if there is something we can do for the first couple of years so that parents don’t feel they are using holidays they probably need when their child is ill,” she says. “It is helpful that I am in this role and that I have just come back from maternity leave myself so I can drive positive changes based on having been through the process.”