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Aviva recently won our Best for Dads award at the 10th anniversary Top Employer Awards. Here we outline not only how they changed the conversation when it comes to dads and parental leave, but how they overcame associated challenges.
Insurance giant Aviva won our Best for Dad’s category at the 10th anniversary Top Employer Awards as a result of the ground-breaking changes they’ve brought about as a company. 95% of new dads now take extended parental leave beyond the statutory fortnight. The average length of leave taken is 22 weeks.
That doesn’t happen when a company just draws up new policies. It happens when the firm is committed to a set of principles and drives change throughout the company.
Anthony Fitzpatrick, in charge of Aviva’s Equal Parental Leave policy in his role as Employee Relations and Global Employment Policy Lead, explained: “Who we are as a business, what our values are, our philosophy – we want to see that hardwired into our policy set.
“But any policy is only as good as how it is lived, how it’s done in practice.”
New parents at Aviva are entitled to up to 26 weeks of parental leave at full pay. With another six months of unpaid leave on offer on top of that. Almost all new dads at the firm are using the extended parental leave. The success of the scheme proves that men will take time off to be a dad when the leave is properly funded and there is no stigma attached.
Anthony added: “If you remove the barriers it’s clear men do want to be involved.”
One of the ways Aviva has tackled the stigma is via lots of internal communications not just flagging up what’s on offer but sharing testimonials of those who’ve used it. For instance, Sam White and Will McDonald job share a director level job at Aviva and have spoken widely about it. The job share came about after Sam took six months Shared Parental Leave.
Consequently, Aviva is invariably the first name mentioned in any discussion about firms leading the field on paternity leave. “Two years in there’s still a huge interest in what we’re doing,” admits Anthony. “It’s given us brand recognition around this issue, but that was not one of the starting principles.”
Those starting principles were threefold: Taking gender out of the equation when it came to parenthood and the leave necessary upon becoming a parent; helping women in the workplace; and getting men to step up on parental leave is a key component of that. And looking at the company’s core values, which included supporting employees not just when they walk through the office door but more widely.
There is a happy side effect to all of this, though. “It makes good business sense,” explains Anthony. “If the workforce feel supported they are more engaged with the business and with our customers. Morale rises. We get better customer satisfaction and that’s better for business.”
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As well normalising the new policies another key plank of driving take-up has been ensuring they are straightforward. Anthony explains: “They are simple to understand and simple to administer. The employee and their manager know how it works from the beginning.”
But, of course, it has not all been plain sailing. The company are happy to admit there have been challenges and they are keen to talk about those hurdles as a way of working to keep improving the offer.
For example, one of the issues that came up was how to backfill roles while parents were on leave. What’s different at Aviva is that this was treated as a challenge not an obstacle. “We pay leaders to lead. It’s very incumbent on them to think in a different way and find solutions to these sorts of issues,” says Anthony.
A vital lesson is that when empowered to come up with creative solutions those leaders did exactly that. Backfilling roles has become a key part of employees’ learning and development, offering opportunities to try out new roles and further their skill set while keeping costs down for the company.
The company now wants to ‘look beneath the bonnet’ of what’s happened over the last couple of years to root out further wrinkles that need to be addressed. One area they are focussing on is the return to work from parental leave. Dads can take an additional five hours per week leave – over and above their regular leave allowance – for their first 12 weeks to help settle in when they come back to work. And the company regards flexible work, whether that’s going part time or condensed hours or changing their pattern in some other way, as ‘the next part of the puzzle’.
They’ve seen other firms playing catch-up and some even go further in their offer to new dads, but at Aviva it’s about embedding the policies into the company culture. Not just shouting about what’s on offer but showing it can work and sharing best practice.
“We want to effect societal change!” says Anthony Fitzpatrick. “We’ve been really open in talking about what we’ve done. Our advice to others thinking about going down this route would be to keep it simple, ensure you have strong advocates for the policy in your company and make role models very visible.”