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Is grandparental leave the next big employee perk?

Saga, the travel and insurance company for over-50s, made headlines as the first major UK employer to introduce grandparental leave and it could be a sign of how employee benefits will change over the next few years.

The policy provides a week of paid leave to recent grandparents to allow them to help their children with their childcare responsibilities.

The Conservative party under David Cameron had proposed extending shared parental leave to grandparents in 2015, but dropped the policy after consultation. Saga’s implementation of the policy, therefore, makes it the first major UK employer to do so.

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Tilly Harries, barrister and director at PwC, said that grandparental leave may be something we see more often as older people increasingly stay in the workforce.

Speaking to HR Magazine, she said: “As well as reflecting the ageing workforce, [the policy] also contributes to female retention and attraction, as many working mothers rely on grandparents for childcare support.”

Saga’s model is but one way of implementing grandparental leave. One alternative, Harries said, would be for mothers to be able to share leave with grandparents - much like in the model proposed by the Conservatives in 2015.

“An interesting initiative,” she said, “would be to lengthen the period (e.g. to 18 months) and allow them to share it not only with fathers, but also with grandparents.”

This, she said, would require legislation.

“Another option would be to provide a stand alone, extended, paid or unpaid, period of grandparental leave, which can be taken at any point during employment - this would not require legislation.”

A CIPD report in 2019 found that the number of employees aged over 65 had increased 185% between 1992 and 2019, and 85% for those aged 50-64.

Older workers, said Harries, are sometimes forgotten when companies think of diversity.

“Age definitely has less focus than other protected characteristics.

“I think this is partly because the legislation gives it less importance. You can justify direct age discrimination but not direct discrimination for any of the other protected characteristics,” she said.

“There is also less media coverage and societal or cultural pressure for age diversity.”

Jane Storm, chief people officer at Saga, told HR Magazine that her company's grandparental leave policy is part of a wider strategy to show older employees they are valued, and encourage them to stay with the company.

“There’s a lot more that can and should be done to recognise the value of experience in the workplace. Grandparents’ leave is one way to do that.

“It’s a signal that shows older colleagues that their time and role with us is valued.”

As part of the strategy, Saga has also opened up a nursery near its Folkestone offices, and now offers more part-time contracts in its call centres.

According to Storm, the strategy will help Saga reach a valuable talent pool by giving older workers confidence that they will be supported in their aspirations. 

“It’s frustrating, but one of the most common things people hear when they start a job in their 50s or 60s is: ‘When are you going to retire?’,” she said.

“That’s the wrong employer mindset entirely, and I know from conversations I’ve had that it harms the confidence and belief of some older workers.”

It is not just older workers who benefit, she added.

“Our younger colleagues really benefit from this experience, and from asking questions based on all that knowledge.

“In return, our older colleagues continually tell us that they enjoy the new skills and knowledge they pick up from people 30, 40, or even 50 years younger than them.”