// This is the second post in our new blog series profiling companies who are leading the way on parental leave. We’re talking honestly about the costs, benefits and implementation of market-leading corporate policies, in hopes of inspiring other businesses to follow suit. //
This week, we’re speaking with the Norwegian-based global energy company Equinor, who recently expanded their parental leave policy. As of January 1st 2019, the company began offering 16 weeks of fully-paid leave to its 22,000-strong workforce operating in more than 30 countries worldwide.
We talked with Geir Johan Husøy (Vice President, Global Reward) and Hilde Sandgren (Senior Advisor, Reward and Employee Relations) about the need to align policy with corporate values, the complexities of navigating local legislation, and the challenges of encouraging policy uptake across a culturally-diverse workforce.
Here are their top five tips on how to make parental leave a success in your organisation!
1) Start With Your Values
What: Whether you’re a large global company or a family-run business, a great parental leave policy starts with some reflection about how it will align with your values.
How: When planning a change to Equinor’s parental leave policies, the Global Reward team focused on how they could make ‘caring’ – one of the company’s four values – meaningful for employees. They decided that caring meant giving both new moms and new dads equal access to parental leave. It meant giving everyone the opportunity to a minimum of 16 weeks off with full pay worldwide. This was a major change for the company, which had previously offered parental leave entitlements in line with local markets and labour laws.
Why: Aligning the new policy with one of Equinor’s core corporate values reduced the importance of a strong financial return on investment. This helped the team win support from the CEO and other senior executives.
2) Sweat The Small Stuff
What: When you’re crafting your policy, first decide how it will interact with local laws and practices in the countries where you operate. Then get to grips with the implications.
How: At Equinor, the company decided to commit to a global minimum standard of 16 weeks fully paid leave, but it requires employees to first take advantage of local parental leave schemes. If these fall short of the Equinor standard, the company tops up the government programs with additional weeks or pay.
From the start, the team at headquarters knew that local offices around the world would need help implementing this policy. They budgeted for time to understand existing parental leave laws and social security schemes, to map out in detail how Equinor’s policy would apply, and to create helpful information for local staff. But even still, the team underestimated the amount of time and effort required.
Why: Don’t breeze over the details or ‘plan’ to just figure it out on the fly. Doing your homework is key to launching a cost-effective and impactful policy, while minimising disruption and confusion during implementation.
3) Get Ready For Culture Shock
What: Announcing your policy will definitely trigger unexpected questions, especially in countries where extended parental leave is not the norm. Be prepared to respond and adapt.
How: Equinor found that in many offices – from the US to Indonesia and elsewhere – employees were generally supportive, but also curious. Some wanted explicit confirmation that their jobs would be protected if they took advantage of the policy. Others wanted to know how many wives it applied to.
The company also heard from managers. Some asked: “Do we have to implement this?” or “Do staff have to take the full 16 weeks?”. A few put it more bluntly: “This is not our culture, and I don’t think it will be used.”
In response, the Global Rewards team made changes to their communication materials. They emphasised that the new policy was in the core interest of the company, and stressed the importance of supporting the policy. They also made clear that staff who take parental leave should experience no negative effect on their careers.
Why: It’s ultimately up to employees whether to use the policy or not. But by encouraging honest conversation about the policy, you’ll be able to spot real concerns and address them before they undermine your goals.
(In case you’re curious, Equinor cleverly sidestepped the ‘number of wives’ question by simply stating that the policy can only be used once every 12 months).
4) Local Solutions to Local Problems
What: Once employees start actually taking parental leave, you’ll have to decide how to cover their work. Staying flexible is key.
How: Equinor felt it wouldn’t make sense to write a global policy instructing managers about how to deal with parental leave vacancies. Instead, they decided to empower managers to pursue solutions that make sense in their local context. Is it possible to tap into existing resource pools for support and backfill? Or is this a critical gap where specific, temporary hire is necessary? Equinor believes this is the best way to help managers make smart decisions that keep the business running smoothly.
Why: It might feel risky to lean so heavily on local leadership. But it’s far more difficult to anticipate every situation in advance, and then make rules that really work for managers on the ground. Stay flexible and your parental leave policy is much more likely to thrive.
5) Measure What Matters
What: As with every decision your company makes, it’s not enough to write something down and walk away. Track a few key indicators so you know if your efforts have been successful, or if you need to change something down the road.
How: As we’ve made clear in previous posts, it’s important to start with an understanding of workforce eligibility. Equinor decided that it’s parental leave policy would apply to permanent employees only, not temporary or contracted staff. And, in terms of length of service requirements (how long someone has to be employed with the company before becoming eligible for parental leave), the company opted to reuse existing local standards related to both maternity and paternity leave. That gives the company gives a clear starting place.
The second key metric is uptake: how many staff are actually using the policy? To answer that, Equinor has created a separate code in their payroll system for anyone who uses the benefit. In smaller countries where payroll isn’t centrally managed, there will be manual tracking.
Why: Your goal should be to report on these figures at the end of the year, and then to consider further actions. This gives your organisation the ability to stay tuned to the changing needs of your business and your employees.