Insurers Zurich introduced extra paternity leave last year. One of the first dads to take advantage explains how it really helped his switch to fatherhood
Sixteen weeks of paternity leave was a huge boon to Ben Collins, an underwriter with insurance firm Zurich.
The company only introduced the expanded parental leave policy last year. But for Ben it wasn’t just the extra leave that made the transition to fatherhood easier. Crucially it was backed up by supportive management. And it was enhanced further by flexible working. All the elements made for a successful package.
Ben and wife, Sophie, welcomed their first child (official child, they have a Labrador called Rosie who acts like a juvenile), Ava-Jean in December last year. But the run up to the birth wasn’t straightforward.
They knew fairly early on that Sophie was at a higher risk of needing a caesarean birth. So when they found out about the new parental leave policy at Zurich they thought taking the leave in one chunk immediately after the birth would allow Sophie time to recover whilst Ben was at home to support her. Their due date was early January however they found themselves heading into hospital every few days from October onwards. Sophie was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and they had several instances of reduced movements which required monitoring.
Ben explained, “Thankfully Zurich’s flex working and having a manager and colleagues who are supportive enabled me to be there to support my wife whilst working around her hospital appointments.”
Employees at Zurich are encouraged to work when and when suits them. The company advertises all jobs as being available on a job share or part time basis.
Sophie was induced in early December and Ava-Jean arrived soon afterwards through an emergency caesarean delivery. “Being our first child, we were both anxious about returning home. But the parental leave time I had made a huge difference,” added Ben. “We can share the responsibilities at home to help support each other. And more importantly, I’ve been able to spend unaccountable hours cuddling our daughter. It’s impossible to prepare for the emotional impact of parenthood. I can safely say it’s a roller-coaster of highs and lows intertwined with severe sleep deprivation. Being able to spend the first few months at home means we get to share the experience and understand what each of us is going through.”
The next challenge is returning to work. But Zurich is trialling a number of initiatives to support dads coming back from extended paternity leave. They are trying things like buddying schemes – linking new dad with those that have already been through it, new networks for sharing stories and experiences across the company and more coaching sessions for managers to help them help new dads. The firm says feedback is positive and they’ll be rolling out those schemes more widely through 2020.
Zurich also allows new parents to change their work patterns to accommodate their new circumstances through flexible working.
Ben and his new family have still got that to look forward to but he appreciates the support from Zurich. “We are still trying to figure out how we adapt to life once I return to work. However, knowing that I have an employer who values the importance of family gives us comfort that we can find the right balance between work and home.”