HSBC claims to be the first large corporate employer in the UK to guarantee part-time work when parents return after maternity or paternity leave. The bank has announced that it will offer a part-time role equivalent to 2.5 days per week so that staff can balance family life while still working on their career.
There is currently no legal obligation on employers to provide part-time work, although parents do have the right to request it. HSBC employees who do want to work full time when they return after maternity or paternity leave will also be able to retain their existing hours.
While HSBC already has a high rate of returners after maternity or paternity leave - every year around 1,100 new parents take leave and 87% want to return to work - it hopes that by guaranteeing that a request for part-time work will be approved, staff will consider more flexible working patterns to help balance their childcare needs.
Sue Jex, head of employee relations at the bank, believes that it will be seen as "an added encouragement" to come back to work. "We want to retain our future senior leaders. When we looked at the point at which women were reaching a plateau in our business, it tended to be around the time just after maternity leave," she said.
Jex, who works three days a week, believes that offering part-time hours will benefit HSBC in terms of workforce planning and managing headcount.
The 2.5 days can be broken up in a number of ways, so that branch staff, for example, could work every day during the busiest times, but still be home for the school run or to relieve a childminder. She also hopes that the new benefit will encourage staff to make greater use of the bank's jobshare register in roles where this is appropriate.
Staff seeking an extended period of leave will also be offered a one-year unpaid sabbatical and a "priority returner scheme" if they rejoin HSBC within five years.
They are also entitled to five days' paid leave for family emergencies, compared to the statutory offering of one or two days unpaid. In addition, those who leave the bank to focus on bringing up a family will be given priority over other candidates should they choose to return.
Jex added: "Some people assume that once people are parents, they are no longer interested in career progression and this has sometimes been an excuse for why there are not more women represented in senior business roles and at board level."
A survey by benefits consultancy Mercer echoed these sentiments. It found that women suffer a "maternity penalty" for choosing to prioritise childcare over work. The study showed that only 29% of senior managers in Europe are female, with the UK close to the average at 28%.
If your organisation is considering changes to the maternity and paternity benefits you offer, Personnel Today would like to hear from you. Please contact Rob Moss.