Helping new families:
PwC introduced a return-to-work benefit for employees who become new parents, in addition to its existing paid leave programs.
Allowing new parents to work 60% of their schedule at 100% pay for up to four weeks gives parents time to adapt gradually back to the flow of work, and the benefit has been called "a tremendous deal" for those who've taken advantage of it.
The later months of 2018 saw the unveiling of similar formal policies at other organizations, and PwC may have set a new standard for family and caregiver support.
The number of babies born to U.S. parents in a given year has hovered just shy of 4 million in recent years, and that means thousands of new parents and families are shuffling their work and life obligations to accommodate.
Employers have taken steps to support their new parents beyond what the Family and Medical Leave Act mandates. Many are either creating or expanding paid leave policies. Others are offering any of a list of benefits, including on-site daycare, paid childcare services and breast milk shipping, among others. But these are expensive tasks that require thorough planning, with or without employers' financial help. And a quick return to work may catch some parents unprepared, leaving them distracted on the job, at best.
In 2018, PwC decided to address the issue of engagement post-childbirth specifically, putting into formal, official letters what in the past had been an unwritten practice among managers of its different teams. And in doing so, it may have helped set a standard for family and caregiver support in corporate America.
'It's an innovative idea that fits a real need'
PwC, trading name for PricewaterhouseCoopers, is one of the world's "Big Four" auditors and one of its most recognized consultancies. But it is not so unique in another sense: thousands of its employees go on parental leave every year. An estimated 2,000, to be precise.
The company offers up to six weeks of paid leave to all new parents (not including any short-term disability benefits), in addition to an extra two weeks for those having more than one child at a time, but its leaders saw a way to improve. "We try to get a pulse on how people are doing," Jennifer Allyn, PwC diversity strategy leader, told HR Dive in an interview, "and we heard that it's hard to go from 100% off to 100% on again" — from parental leave, that is. An informal policy to allow workers some "transition time" did previously exist, but it was "inconsistent," Allyn said.
And so a solution was born. PwC announced in April that all employees would soon be eligible to work 60% of their usual schedule at 100% pay for up to four weeks after returning to work. After an initial test with individual workers, the benefit was rolled out to the entire organization on July 1.
The four weeks of phased return to work must be taken consecutively, a PwC spokesperson said. Parents who choose to adopt can also take advantage of the benefit. Workers can negotiate with their manager what the reduced schedule will look like, incorporating a flexible schedule and remote work if necessary. While that balance requires trust and a willingness to adhere to deliverables for certain projects, Allyn said the feedback so far from new parents has been positive.
"We're driving to drive some cultural change with this benefit. We want people to know the experience of working flexibly," Allyn said. "It's an innovative idea that fits a real need."
'I feel excited for the future'
Robert Harper has been with PwC subsidiary Strategy& as a manager since September 2013. This year, he became a first-time parent, as well as the first dad among PwC companies to take advantage of the eight weeks of paid paternity leave plus four weeks of transition time offered to employees. In an interview with HR Dive, he described how he learned of the new perk from a friend on the same project.
"It was very new at the time," he said of the benefit. "I was actually not really aware of it because the policy had been changed."
The process involved close communication with management, Harper said, but the project-to-project nature of Strategy&'s work made it easier to come back, since new projects open up constantly. He spent most of his time doing firm development needs, like proposals, recruiting and assisting with others thought leadership pieces. It helped that PwC expressed support for flexibility as an organization, Harper said, from upper leadership on down.
"I think there's this understanding that we are in a very demanding client service business," Harper said. "There are heavy requirements on each of us, and so being as flexible as possible is really critical to developing a really unique culture and keeping the right talent."
Project leaders were willing to negotiate which days Harper would be on a full-time schedule — three days out of the week for example — while ensuring he hit the required percentage of hours. PwC made the conscious decision to use a percentage system for the benefit instead of a system based on number of hours in order to ensure maximum flexibility across different schedules, Allyn said.
Harper's story is a reminder of the pressures that exist on parents of both sexes when new children come into the fold: 52% of working fathers in a 2015 Pew Research Center survey said they felt it very or somewhat difficult to balance the dual responsibilities of work and family, and close to 60% of working mothers reported likewise. Twenty-nine percent of dads and 37% of moms in the same survey said they were "always rushed."
Harper ultimately said he felt supported by the PwC team in making the choice, calling it "a tremendous deal" to his growing family. And his situation may not be far from the norm for many workers in the near future, with employers like Noodles & Co. announcing other versions of a phased return policy in the late months of 2018.
"It's great to get back into the swing of things," Harper said. "I feel excited for the future."