Best for family support

John Lewis Partnership talks to about its award-winning family support package.


Last November, John Lewis became the first UK retailer to offer six months’ equal parenthood paid leave and two weeks’ paid leave to any partner who experiences the loss of a pregnancy at any stage during their pregnancy. The policy was announced in June as part of a new package of support for Partners – its employees jointly co-own the business.

It came about as a result of feedback from within the business about what mattered most to people and it supports John Lewis’ vision to become the UK’s most inclusive business for both Partners and customers.

The aim is to recognise how modern families are set up and that they consist of different shapes and sizes and each individual’s journey on how they become a parent can vary hugely. The company wanted to recognise that a loss of a pregnancy can happen in many ways.

The new commitments, which have seen John Lewis win this year’s WM People Award for Best for Family Support, include:

– 26 weeks paid leave (14 weeks at full contractual pay and 12 weeks at 50% contractual pay) for all parents  once they have worked for the Partnership for one year.
– two weeks’ paid leave for any Partner experiencing pregnancy loss and access to emotional support through the Partnership’s free counselling and mental health services.
– All job vacancies will be advertised with a flexible working option, unless there is an operational reason why this is not possible. John Lewis is also providing more support for part-time career progression through its  internal Part-Time Advisory Group.

Getting the balance right

Rebecca Candy is Change Manager at John Lewis and Co-Chair of its Working Parents Network. She says conversations about the company’s parenting policy have been going on for a number of years as John Lewis has been seeking to get the balance right. The company’s gender equality network had been receiving requests for more parental leave for co-parents and hearing that parents were struggling with the complexities of Shared Parental Leave. Dads wanted more support, but a strong business case needed to be made to justify the costs of an equal parental leave policy. Covid has also played its part.

“The last two years of Covid have given us a laser-like focus on purpose and inclusion,” says Rebecca. “We are really serious about being the most inclusive workplace and in order to be inclusive we need to address the gender pay gap and one part of that is the disparity in parental leave for co-parents. Equal parental leave will free mums to come back and allow dads to bond with their children and set family life differently from the outset. It’s not just about money and benefits, but the value we attach to being serious about inclusion.”

Leanne Chalmers, the other Co-chair of the Working Parents Network, said their network had regular meetings with HR and looked at what external companies, such as Aviva, were doing. “We never had any expectation of what we might get and what we got was way beyond anything we had hoped for,” she said.

The network has heard that the policy has been very well received with more dads thinking to take it up.

Costs vs benefits

Becky Vieites, Talent Acquisition and Policy Manager, said the policy may be costly on paper, but the savings it makes in terms of retention and wellbeing are intangible. “There’s the impact of tiredness and guilt on performance and we know anecdotally from dads on leave how much joy they get out of having that time with the family. A lot of them ask for flexible working afterwards. It gives them the time to consider what they want and to share the load. If you just look at the finances on paper it doesn’t stack up, but it’s about much more than that.” She adds that it is also about giving men an equal right to adjust to the change that comes with being a dad. 

In addition to retention, the policy is important for attracting talent too. 

The working parents network covers lots of different parts of the business and there is a buddy directory which enables new parents to team up with a parent who knows the ropes. The network both influences the business and supports working parents by connecting them to each other, supporting and informing them. There are a number of peer support groups that have spun off it, including a Covid support group where parents could come together to offload. This year has seen the restarting of a peer support group on tweenagers which covers everything from online bullying to puberty. Other groups include one for those becoming parents during the pandemic and a dads group.

The network has a small budget and can pay for external guests. There is a monthly plan of topics to be discussed, for instance, there was one on back to school confidence last year. This year’s include teenagers’ mental health and a session covering surrogacy, adoption and fertility.

The working parents network is also working with other networks, for instance, on an anti-racism session or on imposter syndrome with the gender equality network. Cross-collaboration recognises that people have multiple identities.

The network also links up with other similar groups in other organisations. “This is our soul work,” says Becky.

*Profiles of all the winners of this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards will be published in our Best Practice Report coming soon.

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