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James Williams was one of the first dads to take advantage of Zurich’s generous new paternity leave policy and he knows it made a huge difference to his family
When insurance giant Zurich overhauled their parental leave policies last year James Williams’ line manager only wanted to know when he’d be taking the 16 weeks on offer, not if.
That sort of attitude makes a huge difference to take up. So it’s hardly surprising that Zurich recently revealed that seven out of 10 new dads at the firm took full advantage of the four months of paid paternity leave on offer.
Project manager James’ daughter Elise was born in April. He says, “I never felt anyone at Zurich had an issue with me taking the leave. In fact they were really encouraging and keen that I did use it.”
James had been preparing to use holiday to ensure he got more time with his newborn. He’d planned to take an extra fortnight when the baby was born then buy more holiday from his employer to give him an extra chunk of time later in the year. Then Zurich announced all new parents would get 16 weeks of parental leave at full pay. That meant he and wife Hannah, who also works for Zurich, could get the full benefit.
“We were over the moon,” he smiles. “We both thought that was really generous. Initially we planned to divide it and each take a 16 week block but then the pandemic hit and we found ourselves with no support from our parents or friends because of the rules. So being able to be together for that time and not to have to worry about work or finances or anything like that made a huge difference.”
Both parents being around meant they could tackle the challenges of bringing up baby equally. For example, when Elise appeared to be breathing erratically the stress didn’t fall on one parent. Both could talk it through, do the research and establish that it was one of those things that’s perfectly normal but they don’t tell you about in antenatal classes.
If James had returned to work it would have fallen to his partner to take on the bulk of nappy changing but because he was around and focussed on being dad he could get the necessary practice. “There’s always that idea that mum does more of the baby stuff. But in our house it’s been 50/50 when it comes to everything bar the feeding because I’ve been at home. If Elise needs her nappy changed I just do it.
“If I hadn’t had that 16 week block of paternity leave I’d be a different person and a different dad. I’d feel more like a part time dad instead of being fully committed.”
James returned to work in August. He’s working from home for now of course. But he can see that it’s very different working from home compared to being on paternity leave when being dad was his only focus.
James and Hannah are still considering how they’ll work going forward. Hannah’s maternity leave runs out early next year. The option to work flexibly is available at Zurich but with so many people already working flexibly by necessity in 2020 James isn’t sure what exactly he might want to alter, if anything, when the time comes. Like many people he’s keen to adopt hybrid working – spending some time in the office around colleagues and some time working from home. However he appreciates the culture that makes flexible working a genuine option.
He says, “I’ve always appreciated the things that Zurich do to try and make life better for employees. When I joined Zurich I came from a smaller company and I was concerned I’d just be a number in a huge corporation. But it feels like Zurich genuinely care about their employees.
“The benefits, like the parental leave policy, do make you more loyal. A lot of organisations think people only care about salary. But for a lot of people it’s this stuff, the benefits and the culture, that’s more important. I think that’ll be the case for more and more people because of coronavirus.”