With the family dynamic ever-changing and both parents often working to support their families, the shockingly short statutory paternity leave seems increasingly outdated and unfit for purpose. Having had my partner working from home due to the pandemic, I have seen first-hand the incredible benefits it has had on the mental health of both him and our child, and the bond that has flourished between father and son as a result.
Money can’t buy this, and it needn’t be a choice that fathers and non-birthing parents are forced to make. It was with untold happiness then, that I discovered that GO, one of the biggest communication service companies on the island, have recently increased this parental leave by four weeks, and I hope it inspires other businesses to follow suit.
As soon as we heard, we got in touch with GO’s Chief People Office, Sarah Mifsud, to find out what motivated them to increase this leave and why they believe that, as a business, it’s important to put your People first.
What motivated you to create a four-week birth leave policy for fathers and non-birthing parents?
We are constantly looking at ways of improving our employees’ wellbeing. This is just one of many initiatives we have implemented with others in the pipeline. Our employee’s experience and needs are constantly evolving and as a company we do our utmost to ensure we are evolving to address those needs.
What were the primary concerns raised within the business when discussing the introduction of this leave and how were you able to navigate them?
Balancing the needs of the operations as well as the needs of the business is a very delicate matter. That being said, our approach is always to put People at the centre of the conversation. We believe that looking after our employees will indirectly look after the business. An employee that feels supported and understood is more likely to perform better with more positive outcomes. We strongly believe that you reap what you sow. If you invest in your People, they will invest in you as a company.
Is it mandatory to take the leave, and if not, how are you working to reassure staff that their prospects won’t be affected if they choose to take the full leave?
Firstly, it really has to do with one’s culture and way we go about doing things, i.e. the example you are setting. Secondly, whilst not mandatory, the birth leave is certainly encouraged to be taken. In fact the policy is written in a way that employees, together with management, can choose how to consume the leave, whether its staggered, or taken in one go, to ensure that the employee in entirely comfortable with the arrangements. We trust the management and the employee to come to a mutually agreeable solution.
How can championing parents help businesses?
The main benefit would be the contribution this initiative is giving to our People in regards to their overall wellbeing. This directly impacts the business. Therefore, our employees would have the opportunity to dedicate time and be present in their child’s early days. Our People’s wellbeing has always been and will remain a priority and this initiative stems from that pillar.
Wellbeing in its holistic approach allows our People to be the best version of themselves everyday and we recognise that caring for our employee’s wellbeing beyond ‘the office’ is part of that holistic approach. This initiative also supports women as they transition back into work after their maternity months which means that there is less pressure on the family while the mother is easing back into the working world. Having the non-birthing parent fully present at this stage supports the family unit and the family’s financial wellbeing as it allows for the mother to transition back to work.
Do you believe that this extended birth leave should always be optional for companies, or should it become part of employment law?
I really do believe that such initiatives stem from the culture the company aims to cultivate. Not every business is the same. Looking at this from a country perspective may be a little ambitious or premature at this stage. As a company, GO is particularly progressive, contrary to what many may think.
The leave for non-birthing parents is certainly a huge leap forward but we are doing many other things that puts employee wellbeing at the forefront. To give you an example, we have recently launched the GO Academy which allows employees to be in control of their personal and professional learning opportunities. Each employee is given a yearly budget which they can spend as they deem fit depending on what they would like to focus on.
Since you started offering this, what has been the reaction from staff?
Our People have certainly embraced the initiative and are very appreciative of the fact that as a company we constantly look after their wellbeing from different angles. We always listen to our People’s feedback, experiences and needs and adapt as their needs evolve.
How do you think benefits like this will improve your recruitment drives?
It’s early days yet, so we have yet to understand if this initiative will have any particular effect on the recruitment drive. Just to be clear, impact on recruitment drive was not the instigator behind this initiative. One must not look at benefits in a single manner but rather as a whole. Recruits and employees seek a holistic wellbeing approach from organisations one that nourishes their physical, mental and social well-being (yep, it’s a trifactor!).
How have the restrictions brought on by Covid19 changed your organisations view on flexible working, if at all?
COVID19 has accelerated GO into becoming a remote-first organisation. Today our remote workers work in an hybrid model, which means employees can choose to work remotely or from the office. GO had always offered flexible working arrangements and today our People continue to enjoy both remote and flexible working.
What does the future look like for businesses in Malta? Are there other areas that have room for improvement when it comes to employment culture?
There will always be room to continue to improve initiatives and offer alternative solutions. As the world changes, either through technology and/or mentality, business will continuously need to adapt. Inclusion is an area which we certainly need to look closer at, ensuring that what we talk about or write about is getting implemented to continue to strengthen the environment of one’s organisation.
Huge thanks to Sarah for taking the time to talk to us, and to GO for doing more to support working parents. For more interviews and information for working parents in Malta, check out our Island Parents section.
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