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What is current best practice for working parents and carers?

In 2021, organisational best practice for working families and carers is about inclusivity, the journey to parenthood, and introducing ways to help employees communicate their needs.

Speaking to Jo Waterworth, senior relationship manager at Working Families after the 2021 Best Practice Awards, HR magazine learned how the cutting edge of parental and care support is about more than just leave and flexibility.

“The usual standard we would expect is two weeks, but a lot of employers are starting to increase that. We're also seeing equal parenting leave - so giving the same amount of leave to mothers and fathers or partners, which doesn't have to be shared,” said Waterworth.

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Paid time off for dependents has also proved more popular among employers, particularly as the pandemic pulled it into focus, yet it’s the employers with more creativity in their policies that really stand out she said.

The British armed forces seem to consistently turn out best practice in support for their working parents and carers.

This year, the British Army was one of two winners of the Best for Mothers award. The Royal Air Force (RAF) also took home two accolades in 2020. So, is there something about the culture makes the armed forces do so well?

“I think they've had to try harder to retain female talent and they've had to be more creative due to the nature of the roles because it's not just working part time - being a service person is not just a 9-to-5 office job,” said Waterworth.

In addition to supporting flexible working, the British Army has a holistic approach to support the mental and physical health of its working mothers so they can keep up with things like physical training when returning to work. Support includes a breastfeeding passport that records specific accommodations for mothers at that stage of childcare.

Speaking to HR magazine, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “Service families are at the very heart of the Armed Forces community, and it is vital that we provide them with the appropriate flexibility and freedom to bring up their children while they serve.”

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), the real estate company behind Westfield shopping centres, has also won multiple Best Practice Awards over the past few years. It offers employees 52 weeks maternity leave, four weeks paternity leave and up to 50 weeks shared parental leave.

However, Una O’Reilly, group director of engagement and director of HR UK and Italy at the organisation, said it goes much further than that.

“We offer further support and guidance for parents and parents to be, including our surrogacy policy, fully-paid time off for pregnancy loss, menopause guides for employees and line managers as well as parental coaching for parents to be, new parents and their line managers to help best enable a transition to parenthood and achieve a balance between work and home life commitments,” she said.

Focusing on the journey to pregnancy and recognising that families come in all different shapes and sizes is an example of really good practice, added Waterworth.

She said: “Employers are looking at miscarriage policies, so supporting people in the different ways that they might become parents and making sure that that the policies are as inclusive as possible as well using inclusive language."