In November 2017, Aviva launched a new parental leave policy benefiting more than 23,000 employees in the UK, Canada, France, Ireland and Singapore.
At its core, the policy focuses on gender equality: when a new child arrives, new moms and new dads have equal right to substantial paid leave. At the time, Aviva’s CEO Mark Wilson said: “We want Aviva to be a progressive, inclusive, welcoming place to work. It’s good for our people and it’s also good business sense.”
To mark the policy’s one-year anniversary, the insurer released data in November 2018 showing strong enthusiasm for the policy amongst its workforce. In the UK in particular --- where the company offers 12 months of leave, including 26 weeks at full pay --- the headlines were staggering. Two thirds (67%) of new dads employed by Aviva took six full months of leave. More than 95% of new fathers employed by Aviva UK took more than the statutory two weeks of paid paternity leave. By comparison, a paltry 2% of men have taken advantage of the government’s shared parental leave policy, as per UK Department of Business estimates.
As many Take The Time fathers will tell you, spending time at home with a new child is an amazing experience. But in a tweet, Caroline Prendergast, Aviva’s Interim Chief People Officer, also hinted that policy was driven by more than corporate goodwill:
Not only is this the right thing to do, it is also good business. This policy is an investment in our people, our culture and our future.— Caroline Prendergast (@CarolinePrende3) November 20, 2018
We wanted to know more. How did Aviva manage the costs of the parental leave program? What happened when hundreds of frontline male (and female) employees took long periods of leave? What did the business expect to gain, and did they see the results they were expecting?
To find out more, we spoke with Anthony Fitzpatrick, Aviva's Employee Relations and Global Policy Lead. Anthony was was deeply involved in the launch of Aviva’s equal parental leave policy in November 2017, and has spent the last year closely tracking the results.
He talked frankly about costs and upside, and shared strategies for maximizing the business value of a parental leave policy.
Take The Time: Hello Anthony, thanks for taking time to speak with us today. By way of introductions, an important part of our work at Take The Time is encouraging companies to change their corporate culture and recognize there is value to helping employees take parental leave. I hope today we can focus on the business side of the equation.
Focus On The Customer
Take The Time: There is a lot of uncertainty in the corporate world about how much it costs to launch a parental leave policy, and what kind of returns they might see. How are you measuring potential bottom-line impacts across your business?
Aviva: At Aviva, a fundamental consideration we had when starting to look at equal parental leave was to ensure our customers did not experience a change in service levels. Through ongoing engagement with frontline customer teams and by evaluating the metrics they already have in place, we’ve confirmed that the policy has had no impact at all on the frontline customer experience.
Additionally, when people return to work after taking equal parental leave with a mindset that they’ve been supported by the company, they come back with a strong, positive frame of mind. Ultimately, the beneficiary of that is the customer.
Minimize External Recruitment and Drive Up Retention
Take The Time: It makes sense that upholding the customer experience is a top priority. With hundreds of employees taking long paid leave, how were your gaps actually resourced?
Aviva: We have been looking closely at the resourcing piece, and can confirm that the vast majority of roles that we’ve backfilled have been through internal moves. A very small proportion has been external hires, primarily in specialist and complex technical roles. But we have really challenged ourselves to be financially prudent and to utilize the great talent that we already have within the organization.
That is also a really positive message for our people. We’re saying “we recognize your talent” and “you are an asset to our organization”. We’re looking for ways to capitalize on that for the benefit of customer, but also asking what it can drive for the employee as an individual. Do they feel more engaged in their role? Do they feel they have better career prospects? The goal is to give them a career stretch and an opportunity to try something else.
Take The Time: Sounds like a smart way to dodge the backfill recruitment costs that many employers fear. But what about backlash? We’ve heard stories of employees pushing back because they don’t want to take on more work while a colleague is on a ‘paid holiday’. Have you seen much evidence of that in Aviva?
Aviva: Actually, people have been extremely supportive. In fact, some of the anecdotes shared with me have come from people who are not in positions to take parental leave anytime soon. People say: “Isn’t that policy fantastic!?” when they learn someone works for Aviva. That creates employee pride, whether you’re taking advantage of the policy or not.
The other thing is that it’s not just about recruitment. If people feel more engaged, that sense of pride and loyalty drives a positive culture around employee retention. We think that means the policy is actually net neutral in terms of the overall cost.
Encourage Light-Touch Administration
Take The Time: Okay so let’s pivot to talk a bit about the hard costs. In my mind, there are three big buckets: upfront costs to develop the policy; implementation costs including communication and adoption; and delivery costs, meaning administration, recruitment and backfill. Is that accurate, and what is Aviva’s experience?
Aviva: Yes, that’s broadly accurate. Let’s start with the initial planning costs in terms of policy development. That’s what I’m expected to do with my team. We have the creative thinking space already covered within our team’s budget. In 2017, we simply said we wanted to focus our resources on delivering this element. Did we bring in external people to help us with that? No. We did it in house as part of normal operations.
In terms of the infrastructure, you’ve got to consider your communications infrastructure, training, and systems costs. But again, that is all part of what we do as an integrated people function. If we create any policy, we have a responsibility to communicate it internally, and externally if appropriate. And once it’s on the company’s book of work, we get great support from other departments, like our media relations team, to help deliver it because it becomes part of their core deliverables as well. There was cost involved in updating the HR system that we use --- WorkDay --- and payroll. But that was really minimal in the bigger scheme of things as a global organization.
Think Global, But Leave Room For Local Flexibility
Take The Time: What advice would you have for other large enterprises that might be considering a parental leave policy. What would you tell them about the process, pain points and results? What lessons has Aviva learned?
Aviva: I think our advice would be to first develop a philosophy. Ask yourself these questions: who you are as an organization? What kind of culture you want to create? Then design the principles and policy around your philosophy. Finally, enable each of your markets and business areas to develop specific plans that are cost-effective for them, but still deliver on the philosophical principles.
Take The Time: Interesting. So Aviva’s equal parental leave policy has a global mandate, with flexibility per market?
Aviva: Yes, exactly. There is a global philosophy underpinning this policy, but how it’s reflected within each market depends on what is right for each of them at that time. We wanted to be market-leading with this policy, but also to take into consideration varied financial situations, relevant local legislation, and local agreements. So it wasn’t that we sat here in London designing a policy that wasn’t workable outside the UK. The goal was to treat each market as an individual, while maintaining a common global idea of what employees can expect while on parental leave.
Take The Time: Can you give an example of how this looks in practice?
Aviva: Of course. In the UK, we made a conscious decision to avoid any eligibility criteria for equal parental leave because we didn’t have similar criteria in place for our other HR policies. We felt it would drive additional complexity back into the UK organization, at a time when we’ve been challenging ourselves to keep things simple and avoid putting increased reporting burdens on our front line teams.
Now in other parts of our global organization, there are probationary periods in place for our parental leave policy [see table below for details], because it was about mirroring existing HR structures where certain criteria already existed. Again, we want to keep things simple, and work with our local markets.
Table 1: Aviva’s Parental Leave Policy in Local Markets
These are the key markets with the largest number of Aviva employees. In 2019, we will continue to roll-out and embed the equal leave parental leave policy in our smaller global markets. The US and Luxembourg are next. In Asia and elsewhere, we have issued the principles and ask managers to manage parental leave requests on a case-by-case basis.
Monitoring is Key To Long-Term Success
Take The Time: A lot of men and women wonder what their career will look like when they come back from parental leave. How is Aviva making sure working parents aren’t getting penalized?
Aviva: We are monitoring --- through the metrics we already have --- the people who are taking leave, how long they’re taking, how much service they’ve got in the organization, what grade they are when they go off, what they are when they come back. We can track their hours before they went off and when they come back. Are they working full time or part time? All of that is available to us. I think it’s still rather early days right now, but in 2019 we’ll have a rich vein of data to tap into.
Take The Time: Okay, great, I’m putting a note in my calendar to call you back in a year, because those are really interesting questions. Anything to add before we sign off?
Aviva: The last thing I would say to other organizations is to ask how could you can make a difference. As a large corporation, we realized Aviva had some power to start turning the dial to challenge some gender stereotypes, and we wanted to do that as part of our corporate responsibility. So I think it’s important to ask yourself: can you do something that can affect change for your people, and ideally bring about societal change as well?
Take The Time: Super. Thanks again for joining us Anthony and being so candid about Aviva’s experience.
Aviva: My pleasure, thanks for taking an interest in our organization.