KPMG believes that if you look after parents, staff are more likely to stay. Nick Martindale looks at its approach to family-friendly working.
When KPMG introduced its ‘My Family Matters’ scheme in March it raised the bar on the level of pregnancy and parental benefits and support that staff in large professional services firms can hope to receive.
The package combines benefits that go far beyond the statutory requirements. Support for staff during and after pregnancy includes a one-stop-shop website and a planned mentoring site for new parents to learn from the experiences of others.
The scheme was set up in response to a wider initiative called ‘Retain Your Talented Women’, which had highlighted difficulties in balancing work and family commitments experienced by women, says Sarah Bond, head of diversity at KPMG Europe. “Our return rate from maternity leave is over 90%, and 90% of those are still in place a year later,” she says. “But they were saying the experience of coming back could be better.”
Allow for emergencies
In addition to 18 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay for those with four or more years’ service, and the extension of full-pay paternity leave from one to two weeks, the most striking benefit is the provision of 20 days’ paid emergency childcare.
Under the law, employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to deal with emergencies, but the concept of the employer footing the childcare bills is a new and radical departure. The company will put in safeguards to try to ensure this measure is not abused, says Bond.
The introduction of ‘comfort rooms’ for pregnant and breastfeeding women has gone down well, and it is hoped that both the business and employees will benefit from the peace of mind that comes from other elements, such as the parenting seminars. “Day-to-day parenting dilemmas can be incredibly distracting in a workplace,” Bond says. “In terms of their motivation at work and their level of focus, they do have a real benefit.”
Not surprisingly, the initiative has been well received, although Bond points out that it is too early to gauge how successful the policy will be in the long run. “We’ve already had a lot of really positive qualitative feedback,” she says. “Even if people aren’t intending to use the provisions right now, it makes them feel better.”
Industrial relations issues
Richard Port, partner at Clarion Solicitors, agrees that the package is generous, but warns that such policies could cause resentment among other members of staff who cannot qualify for such benefits. “It could become a kind of internal industrial relations issue for the workforce,” he says.
KPMG has also recently introduced an annualised days contract as part of its flexible working policy, which allows any member of staff to request the right to work a certain number of days over the course of a year. “Anybody can apply for it for any reason,” says Bond. “It’s a question of whether we can support that in the business.”
She estimates that 98% of flexible working requests are accepted, and somewhere between a quarter and a third of those are from men. The company offers options that don’t include reduced hours, including ‘glide time’, which allows staff to alter the beginning and end of their day.
Michael Bradshaw, partner in the employment and pensions group at law firm Charles Russell, points to the length of service people have to gain before they benefit from the full maternity pay package as a murky area, although he insists that KPMG’s policy does not breach the law. “Anything geared around length of service flags up a potential age issue, but you have a five-year window where you can reward service without any difficulty,” he says.
Bradshaw also warns a recent change to the sex discrimination law could lead to more pregnant women bringing tribunal claims. “Previously you had to show that you were treated less favourably than you would have been had you not been pregnant, but that has been taken out,” he says. “This may make it easier to claim that you have suffered a detriment because of your pregnancy and may mean there’s scope to argue that if you are off sick by reason of your pregnancy, you should be paid full pay and not under the sick pay scheme.”
For Bond, though, the business case for KPMG’s policy is obvious. “When women graduates speak to women already in the firm at director and partner level, they want to know how they have managed work and family,” she says. “Having this package will be really attractive.”
Pension cost of maternity law changes
Spotlight on maternity
At a glance: KPMG’s ‘My Family Matters’ programme
- Up to 18 weeks’ full maternity pay, followed by 21 weeks on statutory maternity pay for those with four or more years’ service. Reduced packages for those with shorter service.
- Two weeks’ fully paid paternity leave
- Up to 20 days’ emergency childcare costs
- ‘Comfort rooms’ for pregnant and breastfeeding women
- First-aid classes for parents of very young children
- A website for all staff outlining the details of the full range of support and benefits
- Coaching workshops on legislation, parenthood and work-life balance
- A mentoring website, currently being developed, to bring together new and more experienced parents
- Pre-leave and return-to-work forums planned.