Your organisation undoubtedly already has a maternity leave policy in place, but have you ever wondered how it compares to other companies in your industry? Indeed, have you ever wondered how maternity leave differs around the globe? Once you can zoom out and see the bigger picture you might even find that you want to alter your own policy by increasing the amount of days and/or pay you offer new mums in your company.
We all know why maternity leave is important. For a new mother, having some time off work to recover from the rigours of childbirth and to bond with their new child is crucial. Not only that but time away from work means there is less distraction, allowing mum to really focus on what is most important right there and then: their newborn baby.
But it isn’t just important, generous or 'the done thing' to offer maternity leave and support to your employees - it’s a legal requirement.
Should you be offering your employees a better maternity pay and leave policy?
First of all, let’s take a look at what employers in the United Kingdom are required, by the UK government, to offer new mothers.
Statutory Maternity Leave is currently 52 weeks. That’s broken down into two different types of leave: Ordinary Maternity Leave which covers the first 26 weeks, and then Additional Maternity Leave which covers the last 26 weeks.
If an employee doesn’t want to take the full 52 weeks they are under no obligation to, however in the majority of workplaces (offices, shops etc.) they must take two weeks of leave when the baby is born, which rises to four weeks of leave if they work in a factory. So that all sounds pretty generous, does it not? But bear in mind that Statutory Maternity Pay is only paid for up to 39 weeks and this is currently broken down into:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
- £151.20 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
Note that as an employer, you will be paying Statutory Maternity Pay in the same way that you pay your employees wages - i.e. weekly or monthly - and that tax and National Insurance will also be deducted.
However, this arrangement may see many new mums - in particular single mums or parents with only one income - facing financial difficulties. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that less salary plus a new baby is not a balanced equation and can result in mums returning to work before they feel ready. And that in turn has the potential knock on effect of leaving you with an employee who is struggling with childcare difficulties, overwhelming tiredness, mental health issues, and possible resentment towards you as the employer.
So could offering a more robust maternity leave and pay package help you attract top talent and retain your current employees?
What do other countries offer in terms of maternity leave?
We’ve already taken a look at what other nations offer their employees in terms of annual leave and now, as a benchmark, let’s have a look at what some other countries offer their employees when it comes to maternity allowance.
- Estonia: 140 days of paid pregnancy and maternity leave
- Sweden: 480 days of leave, with 390 of them paid at 80%
- France: 16 weeks of paid maternity leave
- Japan: 6 weeks prior to giving birth and 8 weeks after giving birth
- Norway: 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay
It would appear at first glance that the UK’s Statutory Maternity Leave isn’t too bad. However, consider a June 2019 report by UNICEF which clearly stated that the United Kingdom (and Ireland) were classed as ‘family-unfriendly’ - particularly when compared to other European countries with regards to maternity and paternity leave.
In fact, UNICEF found that our 39 weeks of allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay are actually only equivalent to 12 weeks of fully paid leave. That’s less than all of the countries listed above and less than the vast majority of the rest of Europe.
Although, on the plus side, at least the UK and Ireland offer new parents more than the USA in which companies, as with annual leave, are not obliged by law to offer any paid time off. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does stipulate that companies must offer their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Could you - should you - be offering more support for new mothers?
So if the United Kingdom’s statutory maternity pay and leave are less than stellar when viewed on a world stage, could your organisation be doing more for new mums (and dads)?
Employees don’t just join companies for the pay packet. Obviously being remunerated for work done is an essential part of the whole employer-employee relationship, but increasingly, people want benefits and perks too.
Offering additional plusses such as duvet days, free snacks and drinks, subsidised gym memberships, and allowing people to carry over their outstanding annual holiday allowance into the following year, will make your existing staff feel valued and encourage candidates to apply for your vacancies. And going above and beyond when it comes to offering new parents a little more than the bare legal requirement when it comes to maternity pay and leave will go a long way towards attracting applications, increasing employee retention and inspiring loyalty in your people too.