Retaining top talent can be child’s play

Childcare vouchers and extending the option of flexible working to all staff have helped PricewaterhouseCoopers dramatically improve staff retention.

The business

Leading professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), provides industry-focused assurance, tax and advisory services for public and private clients. It has 15,500 staff and 14 offices in the UK, with an annual turnover of £1.5bn.

The challenge

Five years ago, PwC had a serious staff retention problem with only 40 per cent of its female employees returning to work after having children. One of HR’s key challenges was to increase the number of women returning to the company after taking maternity leave. The advancement of more women to senior positions is part of the company’s wider strategy, but the loss of talent from the organisation was stifling this ambition.

If the company was to try and meet the needs of all staff in their desire for flexibility and a choice of benefits, it was critical that childcare and work-life balance initiatives were as inclusive as possible. It therefore decided to offer voucher schemes, career breaks and the right to request flexible working to all staff – not just those with children.

As PwC is a consultancy, most of its employees aren’t based in an office, so developing office-based crèche facilities was not a viable option.

“Flexible childcare provision was more important,” explains head of diversity Sarah Churchman.

Building stronger awareness and understanding of the issues around work-life balance among PwC’s leaders and managers was a key priority. Results from several ‘YouMatter’ employee surveys cited work-life balance as a key area that the company could improve. As a result, HR was tasked with finding ways to accommodate more flexible working patterns.

What the organisation did

A decision to introduce childcare vouchers was made after undertaking a review of the reward package. This was driven by the need to harmonise the terms and conditions of policies following the merger of Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse, and the fact that Coopers was offering enhanced maternity and childcare terms and conditions and had a higher rate of maternity returners.

After an extensive procurement process, PwC selected voucher provider Accor Services.

Staff from all levels played a part in implementing the childcare scheme and work-life balance initiatives. Churchman liaised with the head of reward and the benefits manager to create a proposal which was then signed off at board level. The HR policy development team and local HR managers were also involved.

In July 2004, PwC introduced a scheme to help out parents with emergency childcare needs.

Another major task was to help staff understand their maternity and childcare benefits and ensure that they have access to advice. In 2001, PwC launched its Lifestyle intranet site and this is now the first port of call for employees who want advice on flexible working, parenting and caring.

“We wanted to ensure that the vast amount of information on rights and benefits was digestible for employees, so we worked with an external work-life balance consultant, Flametree, and developed lots of practical guidance for parents-to-be,” explains Churchman. Policies on career breaks, paternity leave and the right to request flexible working can all be accessed from the site, along with a wealth of self-help ideas, information and tools to help employees make and cope with different lifestyle choices.

The outcome

Churchman believes there are key benefits for employee and employer.

“Childcare vouchers demonstrate our commitment to our employees who have parenting responsibilities. They assist in the retention of talent, and employees have complete freedom of choice in what childcare works best for them,” she says. Measurable benefits include an increase in the maternity return rate from 40 per cent to 89 per cent in the past five years. So far, PwC has granted 95 per cent of flexible working requests and around 600 employees have opted to take up childcare vouchers.

A more open approach to communication has been aided by the introduction of a women’s network, which has helped women across the firm discuss ideas and tackle issues together.

The company is now starting to see more women taking up director level posts, as the talent pipeline is changing. However, it recognises that it still has work to do to ensure retention of good people.

So, what’s next? “We haven’t ruled out nursery care,” says Churchman. “We’re considering the possibility of partnering with nursery providers and we’re keeping an eye on the blue chips and banks to see how it is working in practice.”

Churchman’s learning points

– Don’t just introduce childcare vouchers because it’s the trendy thing to do and other companies are doing it

– Make sure you consult with your employees and survey them to see what they want and to gauge whether they will actually value the benefit

– Don’t update your policies in a piecemeal fashion.

Helping families, helping business

20 September 2004

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