An Eas­ier Tran­si­tion

Grad­ual-re­turn pro­grams, done right, keep new par­ents from quit­ting.

Working Mother - - 100 Best Companies 2018 - BY BAR­BARA FRANKEL

Phase-back poli­cies, al­low­ing moms (and some­times dads) to ease back to work with a part-time sched­ule af­ter parental leave, have been around for decades at a few pro­gres­sive or­ga­ni­za­tions. But a new ini­tia­tive at PwC has a twist other or­ga­ni­za­tions might em­u­late: Par­ents work 60 per­cent of the time for a month but get full-time pay, even af­ter paid leave is used up.

“We want peo­ple to come back and be happy. We saw that in­for­mally, women were eas­ing back for maybe a week or two. We thought a month would be great, so we talked with our lead­er­ship team about how to make it work,” says Jen­nifer Al­lyn, PwC’s di­ver­sity strat­egy leader.

The main con­cern was that the ac­count­ing/ pro­fes­sional-ser­vices firm wouldn’t have enough cov­er­age dur­ing the busiest sea­son: tax time (Jan­uary through April). So, the firm al­lo­cated money for work­load cov­er­age for teams that would be par­tic­u­larly hard hit.

The ini­tia­tive went into ef­fect July 1. Kelley Cur­ley and her hus­band, Michael Balbi, both PwC em­ploy­ees, will be among the first to take ad­van­tage. The cou­ple had their first child, Eve­lyn, on July 15. Michael, who is on the fi­nance team in the ad­vi­sory group, has fully paid parental leave un­til Oc­to­ber, when he will start phas­ing back. Kelley, a project-man­age­ment di­rec­tor in the tax group, will re­turn in De­cem­ber from her paid leave, and also will par­tic­i­pate in phase-back.

“This gives him more of a chance to help me and to bond with the baby. And when I go back, Eve­lyn will go into day­care three days a week for the first month,” Kelley says.

The abil­ity to be paid full time while still par­tially at home was a big fac­tor in their de­ci­sion to both sign up for phase-back. “Fi­nan­cially, it wouldn’t work for us to go part time, so had they not done this, we wouldn’t be able to af­ford the time,” she says.

PwC is a “high-per­form­ing cul­ture that you want to hit on all cylin­ders when you come back,” she says, but “this is a hard tran­si­tion, and it’s great that the firm un­der­stands that.”

How com­mon is phase-back?

While 79 per­cent of the Work­ing Mother 100 Best Com­pa­nies have some type of phase-back pro­gram, al­most all pay part-time wages for part-time hours. And that’s still a whole lot bet­ter than what’s avail­able at most places. Only about 13 per­cent of U.S.

em­ploy­ees re­ceive any type of paid parental leave, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. Al­though there are no na­tional sta­tis­tics on phase-back pro­grams, “they are un­usual past the 100 Best,” says Amy Bea­com, Ed.D., founder and CEO of the Cen­ter for Parental Leave Lead­er­ship.

It’s a shame, say Bea­com and other work-life ex­perts. Com­pa­nies might be afraid of ad­min­is­tra­tive costs or blow­back if they are seen as of­fer­ing one group of em­ploy­ees a ben­e­fit oth­ers don’t re­ceive. Or they just might not be aware of phase-back at all.

For the par­ents, grad­ual re­turn can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween stay­ing or quit­ting. “Al­most with­out fail, there comes a time when that new par­ent thinks that they should quit. Go­ing from be­ing at home full time with a new­born to 40 or more hours of work is im­pos­si­ble to fathom. Dads hide it bet­ter, but they feel it too. As soon as there’s a phase-back op­tion, that de­sire to quit goes away,” Bea­com says.

She also notes that if or­ga­ni­za­tions re­quire new par­ents to come back full time right away and be 100 per­cent, “em­ploy­ers are set­ting them up to fail. Par­ents have to get their sea legs, and there has to be a tran­si­tion. It’s not sus­tain­able oth­er­wise.”

“The next fron­tier af­ter gen­er­ous parental leave is help­ing them tran­si­tion back. Many com­pa­nies are us­ing work­place-flex­i­bil­ity pro­grams to start, but not a lot of com­pa­nies have for­mal phase-back pro­grams,” says Jen­nifer Fraone, di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate part­ner­ships for the Bos­ton Col­lege Cen­ter for Work and Fam­ily. She loves PwC’s model, which has been used by a hand­ful of other or­ga­ni­za­tions, be­cause it’s a small in­vest­ment for a big pay­back in em­ployee re­ten­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Teresa Hopke, CEO of con­sul­tancy Talk­ing Ta­lent US, says she is see­ing more or­ga­ni­za­tions in­ter­ested in phase-back pro­grams. As they try to re­tain mil­len­ni­als, com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing a “ro­bust pack­age to sup­port new work­ing par­ents— ex­pand­ing parental leave, phase­back and lac­ta­tion sup­port.” But she cau­tions that a phase­back pro­gram can’t be just “check­ing a box. It has to be ex­e­cuted cor­rectly.”

In or­der to get em­ploy­ees to uti­lize phase-back with­out stigma or neg­a­tive vibes from man­agers, ev­ery­one must un­der­stand what’s at stake. “Com­pa­nies have to en­sure the cul­ture ap­pre­ci­ates the need that any par­ent might have to phase back in,” adds Vicki Shabo, vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Part­ner­ship for Women & Fam­i­lies. All the ex­perts agree that hav­ing col­leagues and man­agers who un­der­stand why phase-back ex­ists in the first place is es­sen­tial to its suc­cess.

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