One year on: A Family Policy to be proud of

By Catherine Leaver, HR Director, O2

Becoming the HR Director at O2 just as a global pandemic struck was not something I could have foreseen. In a people orientated role, and a people orientated business, it has been a big change not to be able to meet and engage with teams in person as we all adjust to new ways of working. Saying that, remote working is working well for many, and whilst I recognise that is not the case for all, technology has played a critical role in making it possible for our people to keep the country connected over recent months.  This pandemic has also shone a light on the things that are most important. One of which is family.

For new parents especially, the opportunity to spend valuable time with their baby is crucial. But it should not take a pandemic for employees to have the support and flexibility to make this happen.

No one, regardless of gender, should have to choose between a career and bringing up a family. The majority of organisations now have fair policies around maternity leave, but, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for paternity leave. It’s been reported that many men believe that taking time off after having a child is ‘an unaffordable luxury’ so choosing between a career and family is a choice that many are still having to make. That isn’t right.

That’s why, last year, we announced an update to our Family Policy, extending our full paid paternity leave to 14 weeks for permanent employees, for heterosexual and same-sex couples, as well as those welcoming a baby by adoption or surrogacy. And the policy isn’t just for office based employees, it’s for our stores staff too – making it one of the most generous on the high street. Now, just over a year on, we are proud of the impact the policy has had on the people who make up our business.

To date, 89% of new parents have taken the opportunity to use the full 14 weeks paid leave. This fantastic uptake up has been heartwarming to see. From the stories shared across the business, it’s clear to see how special the time has been; enjoying precious moments, supporting partners and spending quality time as a family.

So, to celebrate over a year of our successful extended Family Policy, and ahead of Father’s Day that will in 2020 look and feel quite different for many parents, we asked our employees to share their experience of paternity leave:

  • Kristian and baby Mila. Kristian, who works in our Marketing team, and his wife had their first child, Mila, in December 2019. They decided to use the 14 weeks to visit their families in New Zealand, and in spite of being delayed for much longer than planned due to Covid-19 and NZ’s lockdown rules, it provided both sets of grandparents treasured time with their newborn grandchild.

“I’ve been with O2 for seven years, and am proud to work for a company that offers such a generous policy. With my paternity leave falling over the lockdown period, I’m especially fortunate to have been able to support my wife once we returned to the UK during what could have been an isolating time, with the lack of mother and baby groups and face-to-face health visitor visits that new mums would normally be able to access.”

  • Rob and baby Holly. Rob is a Regional Leader, covering nine counties across the South West of England and Wales. He took 14 weeks paternity leave following the birth of his second child, Holly.

Speaking of his time off, Rob said: “My role involves a lot of travel and working away from time-to-time, and that would have been hard if I’d only had 2 weeks, as I had with my first child. Having an extended period of time to focus solely on my family has been incredibly special. I was able to take some pressure off my wife while she recovered and could spend quality time with our eldest, as well as the new arrival.”

  • Abhishek and baby Amara – Abs is a Corporate Affairs Content Manager and has been with O2 for 12 years. With both his and his wife’s immediate families based abroad, the global travel restrictions during Covid-19 meant his mother-in-law couldn’t come and stay with them as hoped. Since baby Amara’s arrival two weeks ago, he’s been comforted that the extended 14 week paternity leave he’s taking will allow him to provide the physical and emotional support his wife and daughter need, right from birth.

He said: “I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to be benefiting from O2’s family policy – it has certainly given me the opportunity to play a full role as a first-time dad with my daughter, allowing us to bond properly as a family. I’m thankful to O2 for allowing me to experience this special feeling for a longer period that many professionals would get.”

Hearing these stories, and reading the many others that our people have been sharing with the whole company on our internal platforms has been truly wonderful. At O2, we are committed to building an inclusive environment where our people can thrive, and looking at how well received our extended Family Policy has been to date it’s great to see the steps we’re taking towards fulfilling that commitment.