Amazon, EY, Others Ease Work Life for New Parents Via Benefits

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By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel and Genevieve Douglas

Amazon, Vodafone, and other employers are helping their new parents deal with grueling schedules and other challenges a baby can bring--and helping themselves retain top talent during the transition.

Doing some creative planning in this area, and thinking generously, just makes sense, benefits specialists said. These could include offering benefits like dedicated lactation rooms with hospital grade pumps, flexible work arrangements, and even breast-milk shipping for new moms who have to travel.

Benefits for new parents may seem like “a niche area,” but the reality is that “we’re talking about a pretty large number” of workers, Kate Ryder, chief executive officer of benefits provider Maven, told Bloomberg Law. Companies lose out when they haven’t invested in good back-to-work policies, Ryder said.

Postpartum Problems Can Last a Year or More

Employers are also increasingly recognizing that special support may be needed up to a year or more after the birth of a child, Ryder said. Postpartum depression, postpartum pain, and other health issues can surface as much as six months after birth, but many health insurers define maternity as nine months of pregnancy and delivery.

“There’s so much more needed to support the postpartum and return-to-work period,” she said.

There’s a lot at stake for both the worker and the employer. Companies could lose as much as $90,000 when a new mother tries to come back to work after maternity leave but quits within the year, Ryder said.

That number is based on health-care costs for post-pregnancy conditions that aren’t managed well, absenteeism losses due to child-care gaps or lactation struggles, and turnover costs (estimated at an average $75,000).

Amazon’s Parental Wisdom

Asking employees directly is step one in getting a cutting-edge benefits program off the ground, Steve Winter, director of benefits for online retailer Amazon, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

The company held focus groups with diverse segments of employees–-including working parents, new and expecting parents, employees in different locations, and workers in different settings, from corporate to fulfillment-center positions, Winter said. “We wanted to make sure that our program included perspectives from all different populations of employees,” he said.

“These forums provided some incredible ‘A Ha!’ moments, and we heard many employees touch on the same themes--the struggle they faced in the days leading up to birth, the pressure that partners not having paid leave put on their families, and the challenge of returning to work within the framework of a new family,” he said.

It was these conversations that led Amazon to launch its Leave Share program, Winter said. Employees at Amazon have six weeks of paid parental leave. They’re also able to share their leave with partners or spouses who don’t have parental leave benefits from their own employers. Amazon pays the base salary for the partner and deducts it from its employee’s paid leave.

Starting with the question of “What do you need?” has also meant that these benefits are actually used, Winter said. More than 11,000 employees have taken advantage of at least a portion of the company’s parental leave package as of Fall 2017, including hundreds of employees who participated in Leave Share, Winter said.

Vodafone’s 16 Weeks of Leave, and More

Vodafone aims to be “the best employer of women” by 2025, and so the company has invested in ensuring it has the right policies and support in place for new mothers, Karina Govindji, head of diversity for Vodafone Group in London, told Bloomberg Law.

In 2015 the telecommunications giant launched a global maternity program offering 16 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees in 26 countries. Moreover, when new moms return to the job, they can work just four days a week but be paid for working five days, for the first six months of employment post-leave.

This arrangement is primarily designed to help the company’s top female talent come back to work, which is a high priority, Govindji said.

On the other side of the parenthood continuum, the company has created a program--ReConnect--to hire women who dropped out of the workforce to be primary caregivers.

The program launched in March 2017 and will recruit approximately 500 women into management roles over the next three years. It’s designed to attract women into management positions who’ve left the workplace for several years but want to return, either full time or on a flexible basis. The program is meant to help women who “are struggling to make the professional connections needed or refresh the skills required,” Govindji said.

Ernst & Young’s Special Delivery for Lactating Moms

Another new benefit that employers are providing to help new moms returning to work is breast-milk shipping. Companies including Legg Mason, Accenture, and Johnson & Johnson have all rolled out this benefit in recent years.

One company that was on the forefront in this area is Ernst & Young. It has been offering a breast-milk shipping program to employees since 2007, when an employee had a meeting she wanted to travel to and didn’t want to stop pumping, Ellen Williams, assistant director, EY Americas Inclusiveness Office, told Bloomberg Law.

The benefit provides a pumping kit, a cooler, and ice packs, along with a FedEx shipping box and shipping labels that make it easy for the working mother to send the pumped milk back home.

EY also offers a career and family transition program that helps new parents prepare for the birth of a child and return to work after taking leave. EY offers 16 weeks of parenting leave for new parents, including adoptive parents.

“We recognize that the transition of being a new parent in a high performing environment and adjusting to the new normal can be difficult,” Williams said.

The program allows new parents to work with a coach to set both short- and long-term goals for returning to work. This allows new parents to have conversations with their teams to figure out coverage while on leave.

“It’s really critical to be having these conversations so that employees feel comfortable taking” leave and “and coming back more comfortable after having been out,” Williams said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at kknebel@bloomberglaw.com; Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

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