When Publicis Groupe introduced progressive leave policies, some leaders worried that employees would exploit the system. This HR leader allayed their concerns and made ‘lion leave’ and other policies a roaring success.
For employees to bring their whole selves to work, leaders need to meet them halfway. This might mean being vulnerable about the ups and downs in their own lives, or having open conversations about any difficulties employees are experiencing.
It could also entail rolling out progressive leave policies – such as gender affirmation leave, IVF leave or volunteering leave – that cater to each employee’s unique needs.
One company that’s spearheaded change in this space is Publicis Groupe, a global marketing and advertising company that oversees multiple agencies.
Pauly Grant, Chief Talent Officer at ANZ, Publicis Groupe, shares how the company has gone about reshaping its leave policies to bring out the best in its people, and improve turnover in the process.
Understand your people’s unique needs
Being the eyes and ears of an organisation enables HR to gauge where employees need the most support.
Looking at employees’ whole self has been the philosophy at Publicis Groupe for a number of years, says Grant.
“It’s about recognising the needs of each employee inside and outside of work. We look at how we can authentically put people first, and learn about their lives, what’s important to them and how to create a culture that responds to their priorities.”
Towards the end of last year, Publicis Groupe introduced gender affirmation leave. Grant was touched by a number of the heartwarming responses she received from employees.
“One person emailed me and said, ‘I’ve been dealing with this for the last two years. I’ve been in other organisations and I didn’t feel like I was even able to talk about gender affirmation. But here you are openly recognising that this as an experience in some people’s lives that is really important to get support through.’
“We want to tell our people: ‘We understood you; we are here for you,’ and progressive leave is one of those areas that shows people that.”
This show of support is also evident in the unique leave offerings that Publicis Groupe extends to working parents.
“Whenever a parent goes back to work after being on parental leave, nine times out of ten, their child gets sick. It’s really stressful for parents,” says Grant.
“They’ve just got back to work after being away for however long. They’re probably feeling vulnerable and not getting much sleep, and all of a sudden your child is sick and you can’t go to work.”
To help parents through this period, Publicis Groupe offers ‘cub care’ days which enables employees to take five days’ leave when their child starts attending childcare.
We want to tell people: ‘We understood you, we are here for you,’ and progressive leave is one of those areas that shows people that.” – Pauly Grant, Chief Talent Officer at ANZ, Publicis Groupe
Meeting employees’ individual needs also requires agility and adaptability.
In response to the devastating floods in Queensland and NSW this year, Publicis Groupe not only granted three days’ relief leave to employees affected by the floods, but extended this to anyone who wanted to help people affected by the floods.
The company was also on the front foot in responding to the January 2020 bushfires.
“We gave everyone three days of holiday leave to be taken in Australia over the course of the year, so that when everything opened up they could go into those areas that were affected. This would help to stimulate the economy, while also giving people a holiday in those bushfire-impacted areas.”
Responding to a problem
Progressive leave policies aren’t just about giving employees time off to navigate their personal lives; they can also be leveraged to support organisational objectives.
Having struggled with high employee turnover for a number of years, Publicis Groupe came up with an innovative way to boost loyalty.
“The media, marketing and advertising industry has huge turnover. The average turnover for the media industry alone is about 34 per cent. It’s also quite a young population, and many young people want to travel,” says Grant.
“We looked at our data around turnover and saw that people tend to leave between 18 months and two years.”
Source: Pexels. Photo by Alexander Suhorucov.
Four years ago, Publicis Groupe introduced ‘lion leave’ to boost retention.
“This means when employees reach their second anniversary, if their leave balance is down to 76 hours – the equivalent of two weeks – they get five extra days of leave.”
Five days of lion leave is then granted to eligible employees at every anniversary from this point.
“It’s helping to manage annual leave accrual. That’s also how I got it across the line with finance.”
It also signals to employees that wellbeing is considered a priority at the company.
“Our industry is so fast-paced and people sometimes just forget to take their leave, but it’s so important for their mental health and physical wellbeing.”
The strategy has reaped excellent results for both Publicis Groupe and its people.
“Our turnover rate has gone down dramatically. In the year we introduced lion leave, we had turnover sitting at around 33 per cent. Our latest turnover is around 25 per cent across the workforce.”
Formulating a way forward
Publicis Groupe reviews its leave policies on an annual or bi-annual basis. Senior leaders come together on planning days to formulate a roadmap for rolling out progressive leave policies.
“The senior people and culture team comes together to discuss what the needs of our people are and what employees are telling us, and we create a roadmap of where we want to go,” says Grant.
After senior HR leaders have established a plan, the next step is to engage the CEOs in an open dialogue.
This isn’t just about how leave policies work at an organisational level. Importantly, it provides space to explore how the CEOs’ unconscious biases and concerns may be shaping their perspectives.
Grant recalls many leaders voicing concern that employees could take advantage of a progressive leave policies.
But Grants says when you look at the figures it’s only a very small number of people who do this.
“I think you’ve got to put faith in your people. When you trust your employees, you get great responses and commitment in return. We always tend to jump to the one per cent when we actually should be looking at the 99 per cent.
“Those one per cent will be found out in other ways. They tend to be the ones that aren’t great performers. But I think not doing something because of that is absolutely the wrong approach.”
The power of storytelling
Creating progressive leave policies is step one, but in order for employees to take up leave options available to them, they need to be communicated in an engaging way.
“When we create new policies, we always back it up with internal communications and think about how we’re going to bring these stories to life,” says Grant.
“It’s not just about putting the leave policy in a document and talking about it in an email chain or on the intranet. It’s actually looking at whose experience it is and what the story is behind it.”
To take an example, when one of Publicis Groupe’s CFO’s in New Zealand swapped parental leave with his wife to take six months off to care for his newborn, the organisation shared his story far and wide across the organisation.
“There weren’t many fathers in the company taking long periods of parental leave. So we wanted to show other men that this was an option for them, and that we fully support it.”
Sharing these stories has ripple effects across the organisation.“It demystifies a lot of issues and makes it a normal conversation rather than a taboo, so people start to feel more included,” says Grant.
“They feel like they belong and like they can share what’s going on in their life, knowing that their employer is supporting them through it.”
Reinventing your leave policies doesn’t happen overnight. AHRI’s short course on developing and implementing HR policies can help to get you started. Sign up for the next course running on 17 and 24 June.