The business case for supporting families

Bank of America Merrill Lynch talks to about its family support package, which won it a Top Employer Award.

Shared parental leave is due to come in in April this year and the most progressive employers have been looking to increase their support for dads and other carers in preparation.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is one of these and its comprehensive family support programme has seen it named winner of this year’s Top Employer Award for Family Support.

It includes initiatives for mums and dads, including those who are caring for other members of the family, and is closely linked to the company's health and wellbeing programme. The bank’s support of dads is increasing and includes paternity workshops and case studies.

Information on paternity workshops is circulated through internal communications and via the bank’s intranet. Sessions are also recorded and run as webinars so more new fathers can take advantage of them. Dads who have taken part so far have been targeted after they registered that they were intending to take paternity leave between April and October last year. The sessions cover how they can support their partners and issues such as bonding with their child.

BofAML is also looking to run a special workshop on shared parental leave and has been preparing staff so they are ready to answer any questions about it.  Jay Butler, the bank’s EMEA Health and Wellness manager, said: “We want to raise awareness of the various options available to both mothers and fathers.”

The company is also looking at developing positive case studies so people can understand how SPL might work. Ama Afrifa-Kyei, Diversity and Inclusion manager for EMEA, says it is keen to get an idea of possible take-up of SPL. For her, what is more important is “changing people’s mindsets”. “It’s about encouraging people to think differently. Change doesn’t happen overnight,” she says. “It will be interesting to see what the trends are across various sectors.”

The company has also launched an informal maternity buddy scheme so returning mums can be paired up with women who have already been through the process. It is considering offering the same for new dads.

Maternity coaching

BofAML also has a range of initiatives aimed at mums. Its maternity coaching programme which was started before Merrill Lynch merged with Bank of America has evolved since, with the main change being the decision to include a managers workshop following employee feedback.

The workshop is not mandatory, but managers are told that it is recommended that they attend and that it aids talent retention. Some 63% of those invited attend. Sessions include raising awareness among managers of their responsibility to pregnant employees, supporting employees’ return to work and how to open up conversations about flexible working.

Managers are also taught how they can reduce any disruption for the rest of the team caused by a colleague being away on maternity leave and make for a smooth transition period. BofAML is also looking at manager excellence programmes and is emphasising the importance of diverse teams and inclusive leadership. It continues to run its Returning Talent programme to help those who have taken a career break for caring reasons to return to the workforce. The fourth annual cycle of this programme, one of the first in the UK, starts this month.

Care package

My Family Care provides BofAML with a care package which includes emergency childcare, school holiday cover such as subsidies for summer camps and back-up adult and elder care and links to BofAML’s health and well-being programme. The most popular service offered is emergency childcare, although demand for school holiday cover has been increasing recently and elder care support is significantly up in the last 12 months. Half of those registered for emergency childcare support are dads. “It provides peace of mind,” says Butler. “People are really satisfied with the service and it spreads through word of mouth. They tell their colleagues. We provide testimonials on our intranet and, this year, will be promoting case studies, allowing employees to identify with their peers.” 

She adds that analysis shows people who have booked are likely to book again which confirms the service offered is useful and highly regarded. They register on the system and can call or book online when they need help. Emergency childcare can be provided within a couple of hours and employees can recommend a carer they know in their area to My Family Care who can then register them on the system.

My Family Care’s Work + Family space offers a wide variety of webinar topics, such as mindfulness for working parents and how to find ‘domestic bliss’. Some of the most popularly attended webinars last year included how to talk so children will listen. ‘Being a dad’ is also very popular as is ‘raising smart kids’. My Family Care advises on how the webinars can evolve in relation to news developments and employee interest. 

Despite high levels of support, BofAML is keen to keep building on what it offers. Over the next year, it hopes to get more employees to register for its family support package and to also make it more accessible. It also plans to give employees direct access to experts who can give them advice over the phone if they need it, to organise regular events, including inviting My Family Care on site, and to develop the programme of promoting manager excellence. In addition it wants to further promote the Back-up Adult and Eldercare services for carers, not just for those looking after elderly relatives, but for employees who might have had an operation and themselves need the support of carers.

Butler says: “We believe that we should provide as much support as we can to allow our employees to combine their career and family commitments successfully to ensure consistency and peace of mind.”

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