O2 enhances paternity leave to boost inclusion and engage diverse families


In April 2019, telecommunications organisation O2 enhanced its paid paternity leave to align with its wider ambitions for inclusion, and to engage diverse families within its 7,000-strong UK employee base.

The enhanced policy enables birth fathers, as well as those who become parents through adoption or surrogacy, to take up to 14 weeks of leave at full pay. Both heterosexual and same-sex parents are eligible for the benefit, which came into effect from 1 April 2019, replacing the previous offering of two weeks at full pay.

The eligibility criteria match those for O2’s existing maternity leave benefit; the employee must have a minimum tenure of 26 weeks, earn more than the government’s lower marker of £118 a week, be a permanent staff member, take the leave allowance in a continuous block for operational ease, and have a shared responsibility for the child’s upbringing.

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For O2, this is another rung on the ladder towards becoming a leading inclusive employer, which became a strategic focus in October 2018.

Ann Pickering, chief HR officer and chief of staff at O2, says: “We recognised that families come in very different shapes and sizes, and when we were looking at our various family leave policies, we decided that [the paternity leave] was not good enough. It was about doing the right thing and trying to level that playing field.

“We were really keen to make sure that whatever policy we put in place applied to all our employees; it really does support our inclusion agenda, helping support men who want to play a bigger role in parenting.”

The benefit was launched at an annual three-day conference in Twickenham in March 2019, as well as via a campaign on the organisation’s internal social network, Workplace. These communications centre around real-life case studies from individuals who have benefited from the leave policy.

Since its introduction, O2 has received 58 paternity leave requests, with 82% of these prospective fathers opting to take the full 14 weeks away from work.

Employees looking for development opportunities can also benefit from the enhanced paternity leave policy, because O2 promotes cover from within the same team, enabling individuals to tackle new responsibilities and build their skill sets.

“These sorts of policies really create amazing engagement,” concludes Pickering. “If [employers have an] engaged and happy workforce, [they are] going to have engaged and happy customers. There’s a direct correlation, [and] people are going to think twice about leaving.”