What makes a ‘good’ maternity package?

mapper.uk.com is a new website that helps women to track the UK's best maternity packages.

One of the first questions for anyone having a baby – or anyone planning to have one – is “how am I going to afford this?”. And if you are in full-time employment, your attention will quickly turn to your employer’s approach to parental leave and pay. How much are they offering? How long can you take for parental leave?

In the UK we are relatively lucky – by law, all employers have to offer paid maternity or paternity leave that meets the government’s statutory minimums. This already puts us ahead of those in some other countries, like the US, where there is no legal requirement for employers to offer anything.

It’s not all about the money – there are many ways of offering support beyond cold hard cash.

And it gets better: many employers in the UK want to offer even more support to their employees than they legally have to, in the hope that it will encourage them, in time, to return to work. It can also be a pretty good tool for recruitment and retention.

They do this by offering employees an enhanced package – typically in the form of higher maternity or paternity pay than the statutory minimum. But how are you meant to know what an employer offers? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, even when you’re already there. If you’re lucky, the maternity and paternity policies will be somewhere prominent, or at least visible, on the company intranet. If not, you may have to ask someone in HR – raising a clear flag that you may be about to have a baby.

From my research, it’s clear that there can be huge inconsistencies even within the same industry. And if you think it could be hard to ask the question at work – imagine bringing it up in a job interview with a potential new employer! “What’s your maternity policy? … I’m, um, asking for a friend.”

This is why I started my blog, m&pper – which stands for “maternity and paternity pay and enhanced rights”. I want to make this information more visible, and I want to help people benchmark what they’re being offered. mapper.uk.com gathers information about what’s reportedly on offer at some of the UK’s biggest employers. I hope this will help families – of all kinds – to plan ahead. So far there are almost 50 employers on the site, including Unilever, PricewaterhouseCooper, Burberry, the BBC and The Guardian – among others.

The more specialist skills a typical employee has the more generous a company tends to be.

Looking at it in purely financial terms, on my site, the most generous employers are tagged with a “m&pper gold star”. So far, Unilever comes up trumps, reportedly offering mothers 39 weeks on full pay and fathers 2 weeks on full pay. I haven’t yet come across anyone else with such generous policies. Otherwise, law and accountancy firms tend to do well, probably because they invest so much in their employees from an early stage by sponsoring them through exams. They make a big investment in their people and they’re keen to try and encourage them to return to work. In general, I would say that the more specialist skills a typical employee has the more generous a company tends to be, as their employees are harder to replace.

It’s not all about the money though – there are many ways of offering support beyond cold hard cash. Small businesses who don’t employ many people, for example, will often struggle to pay a particularly generous maternity payout, but may well be able to offer things like flexible working or job shares that make parents’ lives easier. Many companies also offer things like maternity coaching, flexible and/or remote working, job-sharing, on-site childcare, flexible emergency leave, and family health benefits like medical insurance, all of which can help parents hugely in the long-term, even if the maternity package isn’t as generous financially as at one of the big companies.

In launching mapper.uk.com, I hope to help parents and parents-to-be track the UK’s best maternity packages and plan for the future. The site is free to use and you don’t need to register. If your employer isn’t on there, please think about filling in our survey – it is completely anonymous, so you can share information with confidence, safe in the knowledge that you are helping working families to plan ahead. I would like to get as many companies on there as possible to make it a really useful resource for all new mums and dads to be.

Sophie Boyd is founder of mapper.uk.com.

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