Sweden in the UK: Family friendly working policies

IKEA is in the business of learning about people’s lives at home and their needs, wants and dreams and they have been busy reformatting all their showrooms to reflect this. But not only is it looking into consumers’ needs, but it is regularly reviewing its family friendly working policies for its employees who it sees as vital for its success.

Workers in office

Flexible working could help to reduce the rising employee absence trend

Cathy Donnelly, IKEA’s HR Operations Manager, UK and IE, says health and wellbeing for staff, including flexible working, is rising in importance on the agenda.

The Swedish firm has a number of policies aimed at retaining women who go on maternity leave. Its maternity package is six weeks on full pay and 12 weeks on half pay. For the first 12 weeks back at work, co-workers can work half time, but they are paid as if they were working full time.

This allows them a gradual return to work. “Going back to work is a huge adjustment and people can’t expect you to be fully up to speed so it is good to be able to settle back gently without being out of pocket,” says Cathy.

IKEA is keen to encourage more diversity among senior managers. It has been very vocal about wanting to have a 50/50 male female split in senior management. Indeed three of the five members of IKEA UK’s top management team are women. Its high potential management programme initially stipulated that those who completed the programme had to be fully mobile, but senior managers realised that this was more difficult for many women with childcare responsibilities so they reviewed it and focus more on regional mobility. “Women are now running several stores,” says Cathy.

The company is also keen to promote the role fathers play in today’s society and to support this it offers two weeks paternity leave on full pay. The UK Retail Manager, who is from Sweden, combined his paternity leave with annual leave, taking six weeks’ away from the business last year to spend with his family, acting as a role model for other dads who want to balance home and work life.

Sweden itself is widely regarded as being among the most innovative countries in the field of flexible working and shared parenting, although Cathy says that each country which IKEA operates in abides by the legislation in that country, aiming to offer more than the legislation stipulates and to be an employer of choice.

Flexible working

Many employees work part time or have other forms of flexibility. Two Human Resources managers job share in one store, for instance. Staff can work set rotas so they can drop their children at school and work later shifts or work earlier shifts and leave early. “As long as it works for the business, they have the freedom to work flexibly,” says Cathy.

She says one store manager in Manchester works flexi-hours. “Her line manager is not interested in whether she starts at nine or 10 but in the store’s performance,” says Cathy, adding that the stores often have long opening hours so flexibility fits well into this.

The current package of flexible working arrangements is continually being reviewed, for instance, Cathy adds that IKEA is looking at annualised contracts where people work longer hours in busy periods such as September when the new catalogue is launched and fewer hours in less busy periods which may allow them to spend more quality time with the family.

“It’s all about driving the business and how a person’s flexible working plans can support this so it’s a win:win for all,” she says.

In addition, IKEA runs an employee assistance programme, which offers counselling and help in locating childminders and nurseries, medical advice, including first aid for children.

It also offers health and dental care for managers’ whole families. Co-workers can also take advantage of interest free loans which can help with the first month’s childcare fees when returning to work.

It has a childcare voucher scheme and gives employees £100 in IKEA vouchers when a child is born. Staff also get the day off when their child starts school. In addition staff get a free healthy option lunch or a subsidised alternative plus free fruit. And there is a discount on IKEA goods for staff and a generous pension scheme.

Society is changing and we want to attract the most talented people,” says Cathy, who herself has six-year-old twins and has just reduced her own hours since she lives in Belfast and commutes to London.

“We are keen to support women after maternity leave. They are key to our business. We need them. The average IKEA customer is a 35-year-old female living with children. We need to have like-minded people working in our organisation and meeting these customers. It makes sense to attract and retain them.”

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