Parental leave policies are critical for keeping parents and primary caregivers in the workforce. According to the 2018 Canadian Census, women make up 54% of caregivers in Canada with the highest gender discrepancies in respondents aged 45 and under. Therefore, implementing holistic parental leave policies and return to work plans for parents re-entering the workforce is essential to retain women. The value of additional support services (such as on-site daycare, pump/lactation rooms, or onboarding for parents returning from a leave) on successful retention of parents in the workforce is a key component of this movement and something whose influence is often undervalued. It is important to understand what services may be available to you so you can have important conversations and plan accordingly to fill in any gaps that may not be offered.
By: Sophie Warwick
We don’t talk nearly enough about parental leave. A well-structured parental leave policy allows new parents to participate wholly in early childhood development, take the mental space to adjust to a big life change, and be financially supported while they do so. And what we talk about even less is the support services that are available to employees when they return from work to ease the transition back and keep them in the workforce. A 2021 study by Moms at Work reported that 95% of respondents didn’t receive any formal support when returning from parental leave.
This trend has been further aggravated by Covid-19 and the “schecession”. Women have been exiting the workforce in greater numbers than men and at higher rates. According to a 2020 study by RBC Bank, it was reported that over 20,000 Canadian women left the workforce between February and November 2020. Over two-thirds of those women were mothers of children under 6, despite making up only 41 percent of the workforce. They cited childcare demands as the largest contributing factor, further reinforcing that more support is needed for new parents.
But what additional services are most impactful to new parents and what policies should be implemented to support the transition back into the workforce? We’ve compiled our top recommended policies to help support parents and guide you in asking important policy questions to help plan for the future.
Financial support for adoption and In vitro fertilization (IVF) costs. Our 2022 Parental Leave Report (available for purchase here) found that only 16% of companies offered their employees support with adoption or IVF costs. Many new families rely on adoption and IVF and both can be extremely stressful processes. Often, they require a substantial time commitment to complete applications, assemble references and conduct interviews, or receive treatment interventions that can also be invasive. In addition, the associated costs can be significant if not exclusionary. For example, each round of IVF in Canada costs on average between $10,000 and $15,000.
Supporting new parents with adoption or IVF costs can be hugely influential in retaining successful employees for a cost that, to an individual or family, can be staggering. Beyond the financial aspect, there is also the value in supporting an employee in an important life goal and reducing one aspect of stress that can be associated with this significant milestone. Employees who are empowered to achieve their professional and personal aspirations are more likely to stay at a company and invest their additional energy in organizational goals in return. If you do not have support with costs from your employers, ensure to look at provincial health plans as some provinces have opted to support with costs. For example, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) currently offers coverage for a single IVF cycle per patient, per lifetime.
At work facilities to help with childcare demands. Over 75% of respondents in our survey reported that there were no at work facilities available once employees returned to work. With many companies returning to office spaces or hybrid working models, there is again a need to provide childcare services at workplaces.
1) Designated pump or lactation rooms to offer new mothers the space and privacy to pump while at the office. Typically, new mothers need to pump every 3-4 hours and therefore may need to pump as many as 3-4 times in an 8-hour workday once commute time is factored in. Having a private space to pump allows mothers to come into the office for a workday while still maintaining their own and their child’s health needs. Navigating pumping at work without support can be prohibitive to mothers returning to the office as the needed privacy, comfort, and hygiene may not be available in a typical washroom or other private space.
More flexible work environments, namely remote working, have eased this demand. However, if no facilities are available at the workplace and remote working is an option, many new parents will be forced to work remotely which will disproportionately limit their access to important facetime with leadership. If you and your team don’t work remotely full-time, then a pump or lactation room should be provided to ensure equitable access to the use of office spaces. Additionally, this may be an easier ask now more than ever with many organizations using hybrid models where additional office space is easier to come by.
2) Onsite daycare to allow new parents low or minimal cost daycare and the opportunity to visit with their children at lunch or on breaks. Daycare costs in Canada continue to be expensive and inaccessible in many circumstances. It has historically forced one parent in many families to stop working, as it is more financially viable for the family to have a single income than continue working and pay for childcare. Many provinces have committed to $10 a day daycare but the timeline and value varies. For example, BC recently announced they would be offering $20 per day daycare instead as part of the 2022 plan.
If a company is large enough, and or can partner with other organizations within the same building or complex, then an onsite daycare should be considered to help new parents continue working while maintaining the demands of raising a young family. Not only does it provide an affordable option for parents, but also provides the invaluable opportunity to visit children during breaks and limit the long hours many parents often have to spend away from their young children. This can be a key competitive differentiator for companies.
3) Not all companies are large enough to offer on-site daycare and can instead consider compensation for childcare or find a group rate with a local daycare. Many companies offer group rates for gym memberships, and this is no different. This is a great lower cost, and more flexible alternative, to help employees who are parents manage the financial needs of childcare. Compensation for daycare, or a group rate with a larger daycare with multiple locations, may be more desirable to employees than an onsite option as it offers the flexibility for a family to select the location best for them, as often different parents or caregivers may do the pickups and drop-offs.
Recognize the value of maintaining benefits while on leave including vacation, equity vesting , RRSP/ESPP contribution matching, health benefits. Financial planning for growing families is much more complex than the value and timeline of the top-up compensation. For example, if you’re typically making RRSP/ESPP contributions at work, especially those that are matched by your employer, will they continue while you’re on leave, and will you have the income to maintain those contributions on a reduced salary?
For many families, particularly if the top-up value is low or short term, the EI contributions may not even be sufficient to cover monthly costs and therefore no additional funds are available for monthly savings. It is important to save accordingly if this is the case for you and factor this time into your long-term savings goals. Companies that offer RRSP contribution matching or pension schemes that continue during parental leave are hugely impactful for families to still allow accumulation of some savings during this time and continuing to grow wealth for the future. These contributions are particularly impactful as they are often deducted pre-tax instead of being reimbursed at the end of the fiscal year.
In addition, there are often additional health needs for parents and new babies that will require health insurance to support costs. Over 80% of respondents of our survey reported that their health benefits would continue during a parental leave but the remaining respondents would need to rely on a partner's health plan, or allocate additional savings to healthcare needs. It is critical to understand whether this is offered at your company and whether additional savings will be required if benefits aren’t provided while on leave.
Onboarding is the norm for new hires, and it should be for parents returning from parental leave too. Navigating a new family's needs while returning to work after an extended leave can be extremely challenging - and let’s be real, it’s likely happening with reduced sleep. Structured mentorship programs for new parents are vital to retain employees and support them during this exciting, yet often challenging time. Particularly in early childhood, many parents can feel like they have two full-time jobs and may require some additional support when returning to the workplace.
Returning from an extended leave, of any kind, can be intimidating and some parents will choose not to return for fear of the transition. For some, it can feel like they’ve “been held back a year” and are now returning to work with a younger cohort and may even be navigating company pivots that occurred on their leave. Providing onboarding in that transition can reduce the pressure on employees and create a higher likelihood of a successful return. Mentorship at all career levels is crucial to professional development and retention. Employees with strong leadership and support are more likely to develop commitment to their employer, remain in the workforce and typically have higher performance.
There is so much more to understanding your parental leave than just the length and value of the salary top-up. It is critical to understand all the coverage and support services available to you to provide the opportunity to plan accordingly for any gaps that might exist. Ask for a complete copy of your parental leave policy, if not already available, and schedule a review if there is a lack of clarity or opportunities for improvement. If you have any questions regarding your policy, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arriagada, P. (2020, November 24). The experiences and needs of older caregivers in Canada. Retrieved from Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2020001/article/00007-eng.htm
Choi, S. (2021, May 9). Canadian women need more help returning to work after maternity leave, survey suggests. Retrieved from CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/canadian-women-need-more-help-returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave-survey-suggests-1.6019001
Press, T. C. (202, November 20). Mothers of kids under age 6 make up majority of workforce exodus amid coronavirus: RBC. Retrieved from Global News: https://globalnews.ca/news/7474451/coronavirus-childcare-women-leaving-workforce/