Aviva’s Chief People Officer Danny Harmer told us how they’ve coped with coronavirus and what it might mean for working dads going forward.
Insurance giant Aviva won the ‘Best for Dads’ title at our Best Practice Awards last year. They’ve been leading the way with family friendly policies for a few years now with a particular emphasis on dads.
Two fathers took on a high profile job share, modelling different ways of working and setting an example to all employees. But for most of the company’s workers the big change has been equalising parental leave. Dads are entitled to a year off, the first six months fully paid. On average new dads at the firm take 22 weeks of paternity leave.
Danny Harmer is Chief People Officer at Aviva. She told us how the company has adapted to the pandemic and what it’ll mean for working dads in the future.
When schools and childcare were closed as a result of COVID-19, parents had to navigate the collision of their working and home lives along with becoming teachers. Flexibility, mutual support, and kindness have helped Aviva’s dads and mums handle these challenges and there are lessons we can learn for the future of work too.
We’ve long believed it is good for our people and, ultimately, our customers too to have a supportive workplace where people can be themselves.
And this helped guide our decisions during the early days of moving our employees out of our offices and setting them up to work from home.
When the UK entered lockdown, we reassured our 15,000 UK employees that they would continue to be paid even if looking after their children stopped them from working ‘as normal’. Taking away their concerns about financial security was probably the simplest problem to solve. It wasn’t a magic wand that enabled them to learn how to become a teacher overnight and juggle numerous new demands. But we know people are more likely to be at their best when they know they are supported.
Like the challenges all new parents face (and I certainly did) when they return to work after having a baby or adopting the question for many was, ‘How on earth am I going to make this work…?’
Our equal parental leave gives both parents (including families with two dads) six months paid leave to support them during the early days of a growing family. Our new dads have embraced parental leave and are now wrestling with questions about how their professionalism and commitment might be perceived, in the same way that women do. My perception has been that, in the past, men were perhaps less likely to work from home, maybe for the same reasons? The playing field is certainly level right now.
The answer to these concerns – for all parents – is working with supportive leaders and colleagues, backed up by great family friendly policies. During lockdown we have encouraged leaders to agree working patterns with their people that work for them, our customers and Aviva.
Lockdown also cut off our usual means of support and communication, like catching up with a colleague while making a cuppa, or grabbing lunch with your team. So, our people found other ways to be there for each other, using technology.
Membership of “Parents at Aviva”, a peer support group on Yammer (our workplace social platform) grew dramatically over March and April. Hundreds of members gave each other moral support and shared resources to lighten the load of home schooling from cooking with children and COVID-19 time capsules to tackling the maths syllabus. An Aviva colleague who has always home-schooled his children shared what he had learnt over the years. And one of our actuaries teamed up with our Chief Financial Officer to teach children fractions through baking cakes.
With young people spending more time using devices, our information security teams ran a series of interactive presentations teaching over a thousand Aviva families how to stay safe online. Teams from IT and communications also launched a weekly radio show on Friday afternoons. A welcome break from staring at a screen. Helping colleagues feel connected, with song requests and recognition shout outs.
Beyond the direct support for parents, something else changed too. With everyone working from home each of us got a sneaky peek into our colleagues’ home lives. Laptops balanced on stacks of books; spare rooms converted into offices; kitchens turned into conference rooms; rolled up towels as lumbar cushions (that’s my top tip for preventing back pain)! All of us – parents and non-parents alike – have become familiar with, and importantly smiled about, a dog barking or a child asking for a biscuit. It helped demonstrate our humanity to each other, which is a good thing.
The pandemic is truly dreadful. But it has shown us that not everyone needs to be in an office to work all the time. And it has also underlined that offices still have an important role to play too. For new employees, they are crucial for onboarding… getting a sense of the culture, building relationships and accessing information. They are also a space for collaboration, innovation and physical connection with colleagues. And the office is a welcome contrast to working at home too – because too much of any environment can become a negative.
As we are thinking about what the future of work looks like, we need to keep hold of the positives that have come from lockdown. Blending where people do their jobs in a way that works for colleagues, customers, businesses and communities.
With a little flexibility, empathy and supportive leadership we will create environments where everyone can thrive.