Why is improving communication around policies important for your employees and your organisation?
Research from the University of Birmingham has shown that effective communication is key to encouraging fathers to use parental leave and caring policies. Good clear communication helps improve awareness and breaks down barriers to fathers using family friendly policies which can lead to improved outcomes for the family, the child and the organisation. Poor communication means employees are often unaware of the policies and support the organisation offers or even their statutory entitlements. For example, while Shared Parental Leave (SPL) offers parents and fathers in particular the opportunity to spend a significant time with their child in the first year (either in conjunction with the other parent or alone) many employees have never heard of the policy. Even if they are aware of SPL they are usually unclear about how it could work for them or their family. Improved communication will help improve knowledge and understanding and allow parents to make choices which are right for their family. This is turn can create positive feelings about the support they are being offered by their organisation. Many business benefits exist on the topic of better supporting fathers in the workplace.
What can your organisation do?
Policies can be distributed and shared with employees in a variety of innovative ways. Some of those ways are outlined in this Toolkit. These examples have been designed for you to engage and capture the attention of parents, especially fathers or fathers-to-be within your workplace. In addition to policies being effectively integrated and communicated to employees, it is important that your organisational culture is consistent with the messages in the communications so to support the uptake and usage of the policies. One way to do this is to make sure that senior management are aware of and understand the importance of SPL and other parental leave and family-friendly policies and that they are vocal about their support. If possible, senior managers should attend some of the parenting group meetings or act as a Fatherhood Champion.
Creating a management culture that is supportive
Research from the University of Birmingham also demonstrates that fathers can be concerned about the impact taking leave can have on their careers, despite them being entitled to the leave (if eligible). It is therefore extremely important to have senior managers actively and visibly supporting fathers in the workplace and related policies such as SPL, Flexible Working and Paternity Leave. It is important for the organisation to think about their own philosophy and organisational culture and how this relates to their values, policies and communications approach to families. Policies themselves will be ineffectual if the culture of the organisation runs counter to what they are trying to achieve. Ensuring managers have proper training, information and sympathetic attitudes toward parental leave and family-friendly policies is key to effectively communicating the organisation’s supportive culture and policy offerings.
It may also be beneficial to announce parenting policies to the organisation as a whole to promote a culture which celebrates the opportunity these policies provide parents. This may distill fears some fathers hold about a stigma surrounding these policies, leading to them being apprehensive in using them.
Ensure that line-managers and everyone in the HR function are well-trained and knowledgeable about parental leave and other policies supporting fathers in the workplace– do not assume that this is knowledge already held by managers and employees or even all of HR.
Research from the University of Birmingham has shown that some fathers can be concerned that asking for SPL could negatively impact their career, and so can be put off making enquiries about it. On the other hand, fathers that have taken SPL become more confident in asking about other policies such flexible working – all of which can lead to an increase in staff well-being and retention.
Create Parenting Passports
A Parenting Passport is a document that records important information about a parent’s caring responsibilities and support needs. It helps create an understanding between the parent employee and the organisation which moves with the employee so they do not need to constantly re-explain their situation and support needs as they move across an organisation or change line managers. A Parenting Passport can lead to reduced levels of disruption and anxiety in the workplace and improve staff retention and well-being. Furthermore, a Parenting Passport can help encourage a culture where employees feel supported, as well as offer consistency for how parents are treated across the organisation.
Top tips for effective communication
Messages should be simple and accessible
It is important to avoid overwhelming employees with information about the policies or support groups available. Too many details may deter an employee from reading the information or it could make the policy appear overly complex. In this instance, using diagrams or figures to simplify how the information is conveyed may help.
Jargon should be avoided where possible
For new parents and parents-to-be, it can feel like the world they are entering is complicated and overwhelming. Keeping things straightforward will reassure them that your organisation is there to help and, crucially that you are approachable. Terms like “Shared Parental Leave” will often be unknown even to people with experience of being a parent, so make sure that everything is conveyed in an accessible and clear manner.
Use images and diagrams to highlight information and capture attention
Some poster template examples are included in this toolkit.
Try to avoid unnecessary repetition as people may tune out
Research does highlight the benefit of repetition for learning, however, too much information may be viewed as overwhelming within the context of policy information, and the length of the information may be off-putting for the employee.
Carefully consider where information is placed
Keep an eye out for locations where information can be received by a captive audience e.g., toilet doors, by a water fountain, communal areas, lift doors and so on. However, don’t forget people who may work remotely, and ensure the dissemination is as wide as possible and on online platforms too.
Consider identifying a ‘Fatherhood Champion’
A “Fatherhood Champion” is a named visible person who has successfully balanced his parenting and working life. That could mean he has flexible hours to allow him to pick his kids up from school, it may mean he has taken SPL, or it may just mean that he has made a commitment to leaving on time! Due to SPL being a relatively new policy available to parents and thus less well known than Maternity Leave or Paternity Leave, it would be useful to give employees examples where possible of fathers within the workplace who have used this policy and/ or highlight the support available from their organisation.
Let people know where to look or who to speak to so they can find out more
Many companies have a range of great parenting policies, but awareness amongst employees can be patchy and misinformation and confusion may exist. Having an accessible and prominent place to obtain further information is key. One way to do this is by setting up a Parenting Passport.
Communicate with mothers and other parents too
Mothers and other parents will likely share information they receive with fathers, so this can be another way to encourage families to discuss caring options. As such, we would encourage providing a one pager of key entitlements for working fathers to all parents coming to HR or their line manager to discuss their parental leave (i.e., adoption, maternity, paternity).
Effectively using posters within the organisation
Posters are one of the simplest ways to convey information to employees, especially when placed in communal areas such as break-out rooms, toilets and main doors and corridors as these are areas where there is likely to be a captive audience. Poster templates have been designed for you to enter information that is tailored to your organisation and aims to raise awareness of what is available to employees and sign-post to places where further support and information can be accessed. However, it is important not to over-rely on posters as, whilst basic information can be initially presented in this format, it is a good idea to offer more dynamic ways of conveying further information.
Fatherhood Champions are a good person to feature on posters and other materials, giving a human face to policy. More information on how to select a Champion and suggestions on how they might be used can be found in our resources section.
This Toolkit contains some poster templates which you may adapt to the needs of your organisation. Some suggestions of what to include in a poster are:
If you have identified a workplace Champion, include a picture of them, ideally with their child. If you haven’t yet identified one, you could use an example from another organisation, but if possible a home-grown Champion is best.
Add quotes/anecdotes from a role-model/Champion within your organisation. This will highlight the benefits of using the policy and make the policy more accessible.
Include key facts about SPL, such as:
– Eligibility criteria
– How much time is available to each parent
– Wage/ salary replacement offered (if applicable) by the organisation / statutory
– Practical features of SPL, for example, the benefits of SPL (i.e. time can be taken off with your partner or alone and at any time in the first year, the possibility to take time off then return to work and then take some more time later in the first year (blocks)).
– The employee’s legal rights and protections.
Mention where to seek further information within your organisation e.g., lead contact/HR department.
Consider referencing a social media campaign to connect people with experience of using family friendly poIicies like #ThisDadCan. This is particularly beneficial for creating a community of fathers online (more information can be found below)
It may be that as a large organisation, you are able to provide all the support and role models you need internally, however, having a wider network for employees to draw upon outside of the organisation can help. Providing employees with the information to join relevant social media groups and share experiences and stories will enable your staff to feel involved in a community of dads that is much wider than the organisation. Encouraging your employees to use the hashtag via Facebook or Twitter could be useful in ensuring people have an outlet on which to share and discuss their experiences outside of the workplace. To help with this and encourage further promotion it is possible to include the hashtag #ThisDadCan on social media. This can also assist in helping to develop a positive space around fathers taking on more childcare by utilising organisational policies and help dismantle gender stereotypes within the workplace. Of course, management can also get involved and tweet about the organisation’s family-friendly policies and be involved in promoting its workplace champions to empower employees to make informed decisions.
Examples of use
Through the use of #flexibleworking #ThisDadCan, I don’t miss out on being able to pick up my kids.
Closed a sale today and also able to develop wonderful memories while looking after my child. I <<heart>> #flexibleworking! #ThisDadCan
The bond you develop with your child while on #SharedParentalLeave is indescribable. This is a time I will never forget #ThisDadCan
My organisation [name] offers [details of enhancement on leave] weeks of paid leave for SPL. Using #SharedParentalLeave has meant I can enjoy the moments I would have otherwise missed #ThisDadCan
Communicating Parenting Groups
Whilst a social media campaign is a good place for fathers to encounter a wide range of experiences and stories, a physical parenting group within the organisation could be an effective way of communicating policies whilst also offering a supportive space where discussions can take place. This Toolkit contains a Parenting Group module on setting up and maintaining a parenting group within your organisation.
A parenting group could involve regular face-to-face meetings, but they can also exist online, perhaps using an intranet or other platform already in place in your organisation. In considering what platforms are possible be mindful of the needs of parents in the workplace since an online parenting group may be more accessible for some parents enabling more parents to access policies and support.
Training for managers
Managers have a key role to play in effectively communicating policies and encouraging their take up. It is crucial that line managers are fully trained to be able to respond to queries about SPL and/or other policies or know where to access up to date information for more complicated queries. Managers should also be aware that when communicating with fathers they should not assume that fathers will always be a secondary carer.
It is also important that managers don’t wait to be approached but make it clear to their teams that these policies are available and they support them so that future parents are aware of the policies early and can make informed decisions. Research at the University of Birmingham has highlighted that the timing of communication is crucial since many parents have made up their mind about caring responsibilities and the policies they wish, based on incomplete information prior to engaging with HR. This highlights the need to increase awareness and communication about organisation policies generally across an organisation.
If you have workplace champions these can be used to communicate the policies across the organisation and can be a contact that line managers to give to new parents in their teams.
Family fun days
A family fun day might seem costly but it can be an effective way of communicating with employees and promoting a family friendly culture. It could also form part of a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy. This type of event would allow you to engage with fathers and their families in an informal and fun manner. Furthermore, this will be a good opportunity to engage with the employee’s wider family, whilst integrating and introducing them into your company and the key values you share in a way that has perhaps not been previously done.
If budget permits, hiring an entertainer or an attraction may attract more people to your event. However, hosting a fun day need not be an expensive venture and you may be surprised who works within your organisation that can face-paint or bake cakes for a sale! However, the importance of showing your support not only in a bureaucratic fashion during working hours but in a human manner by engaging with the wider families of your employees should not be underestimated in effectively communicating, not only policy but the core values and culture of your organisation to employees and their families.
Another way of engaging with the wider family is by creating resource(s) that employees can take home to discuss with their partner and other family members. This could be a simple yet effective way to communicate not only with the employee but their wider support networks too. Developing ‘take home’ resources could include a fact sheet with information about SPL, benefits of flexible working, and company specific support including who to contact, parenting groups, access to the organisation’s intranet, online support and so on.