Officeworks rolls out new parental leave policy

Officeworks has become the latest business in Australia to improve its parental leave policy, offering longer paid leave and extending support to more people, such as those going through adoption, IVF or surrogacy.

Officeworks, which is owned by Wesfarmers, introduced the new policy called Growing Families on March 1, but only publicly announced it this week.

The new policy doubles the amount of paid leave for primary carers from six weeks to 12 weeks and provides two weeks of paid leave for secondary carers, where none was available before. It also entitles primary carers to 52 weeks of superannuation contributions and long-service-leave accrual, and secondary carers to two weeks of superannuation contributions.

The policy also includes support for those going through IVF, adoption or surrogacy, a gap in Officeworks’ previous policy. The paid benefits are available to all 5500 permanent employees, with eligibility commencing from the first day of employment.

Employees have responded enthusiastically to the new policy, with more than 50 team members from across the business having applied for paid carer’s leave since it was introduced three months ago.

The idea for the change came out of conversations Officeworks’ new managing director Sarah Hunter had with various team members when she joined the business in January of this year. After realising the retailer’s old program wasn’t fit-for-purpose, Hunter worked with Officeworks’ newly appointed general manager of human resources, Rebecca Oakley, to develop something better.

“Personally, I have two young children, so I know firsthand how much that support means to families,” Hunter told Inside Retail Weekly.

“I’m delighted that we’re moving forward in this positive direction to help make bigger things happen in our team’s lives.”

An emerging trend

Officeworks is the latest Australian business to improve its parental leave policy. The health insurer Medibank introduced a much-publicised 14-week paid parental leave entitlement for staff, regardless whether they are the baby’s primary or secondary carer, on International Women’s Day this year.

And Lululemon in February launched a new policy, giving full-time employees three months of paid parental leave if they have worked for the company for two years, and six months of paid parental leave if they have worked for the company for five years.

Meanwhile, Priceline and Woolworths are among the growing number of retailers that now provide superannuation to employees on parental leave.

These policy changes are frequently presented as a way for businesses to retain talent by increasing the likelihood that new parents will return to work and giving employees who want to become parents a reason to stay with the company.

“Retailers have always been very invested in retaining staff,” said Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retail Association. “Part of that is designing benefits that appeal to the demographic of workers they have.”

Lamb noted that more than half of all retail workers are women, and they tend to be younger than workers in other industries, so they may be particularly receptive to parental leave entitlements. And while generous policies come at a cost, it is almost certainly cheaper than the cost of replacing existing employees.

According to the Work Institute’s 2017 “Retention Report”, the cost of turnover is estimated to be 33 per cent of a worker’s annual salary. This figure includes the loss of institutional knowledge, time it takes to find a replacement and time it takes for the new worker to become fully productive. The report also found that most turnover is preventable, with some of the most common reasons being compensation and benefits, work-life balance and well-being.

“We certainly have seen more brands looking at different ways to engage [staff] around parental leave and leave entitlements, but this is an emerging trend,” Lamb told IRW.  

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