The employment rates for working parents in the UK is at an all-time high. In 2021, 75.6% of mothers and 92.1% of fathers were employed—higher than the rate of either men or women without dependent children. Yet despite this rapid growth, pregnant people and new parents are still facing a lack of support in the workplace. 

Most of us consider maternity leave or parental leave to be the biggest part of employee maternity benefits, but in reality, it’s only a starting point. Employees looking to build a family need more than time off—they want support which allows them to balance work and family life in the long-term, enabling them to thrive as employees and parents alike.

The human resources department is responsible for ensuring that parents-to-be are provided with the correct legal maternity leave, parental leave, or unpaid leave. But what about those who need extra care, or who have to return to being full-time employees? In this guide, we share how HR teams can utilise employee maternity benefits to foster a positive workplace culture and better support working parents and parents-to-be beyond maternity leave.

Understanding employee maternity benefits in the UK 

What constitutes employee maternity benefits?

Employee maternity benefits are a set of offerings provided by an employer to support those in their company who are expecting a child or have recently become parents. These benefits are designed to help employees balance their work responsibilities with their parenting ones.

Some, such as Statutory Maternity Pay and unpaid paternal leave, are legal requirements. Whereas many others, including extended paid maternity leave, additional health benefits, and flexible work arrangements, are up to the discretion of the employer.

Maternity benefit plans vary from one company to another. However, studies show that comprehensive benefits that provide more than maternity leave or parental leave attract higher rates of diverse talent.

Modern maternity benefits support the entire journey of becoming and being a parent, from pregnancy through raising a family. They care for an employee’s physical and mental health, as well as the practicalities of having a child. They also support all paths to parenthood, no matter the employee’s sexuality, gender, relationship status, or method for growing their family.

The UK landscape: Federal law and regulations 

Understanding paid maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the legal minimum salary you must pay eligible employees whilst they are on maternity leave after the birth of a child. Employees receive paid maternity leave through SMP regularly for up to 39 weeks, starting with 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks before tax. Following this, paid maternity leave equates to whichever is lower: £172.48 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings.

Federal law dictates that the first payment usually starts when maternity leave is taken; however, it may begin early if an employee is off work with a pregnancy-related illness in the month before the baby is due. An employee can also return to work sooner if they wish, or remain on maternity leave for up to a year without Statutory Maternity Pay.

To qualify for SMP, eligible employees must earn on average at least £123 per week, have given notice and proof of pregnancy at least 15 weeks before their due date, and have worked for a business continuously for at least 26 weeks.

Those who experience early birth or lose their baby after the 24th week of pregnancy are also eligible for this maternity leave.

Parental leave rights in the UK

Once deemed eligible for maternity leave, employees have a number of additional rights to consider. Employment terms (such as pension contributions) are protected and additional rights may come into play if an employee is made redundant.

Federal laws allow employees to take time off work for antenatal appointments, and they must have their role checked for any health and safety risks such as long working hours, heavy lifting, or standing for a long time without a break. This risk assessment also applies to those who return to work but are breastfeeding.

Employees whose partner is having a baby may also be entitled to paternity or parental leave. Fathers, partners of the mother (including same-sex partners), adoptive parents, and intended parents (those having a baby through surrogacy) are eligible for one or two weeks paid leave at £172.48, or 90% of their average weekly earnings. They can also take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments or two appointments for their adopted child.

Employees may be entitled to shared parental leave—up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 week’s pay. This can either be shared between two people or given to one employee. 

Additional unpaid parental leave is granted to those who have been your employee for one year or more. This unpaid leave allows adequate time to look after a family member, such as spending time with a new child, looking after them during school holidays, or searching for schools. The limit is 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. 

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Balancing employer maternity benefits with legal mandates 

Whilst there are no legal obligations to offer more than the policies discussed above, a growing number of UK employers are offering enhanced maternity provisions beyond maternity leave or parental leave.

A recent poll found that 65% of organisations provide enhanced maternity pay and 61% offer further paternity pay. Another survey found that 58% of companies offer maternity support outside of legal mandates, going beyond unpaid leave. 

Why go beyond the basics?

Going beyond the minimum maternity leave or parental leave has unparalleled benefits that can positively affect your business and your employees alike. 

It starts with better recruitment. An employer that offers enhanced maternity and paternity benefits is much more likely to stand out and attract talent in what is still a competitive labour market. This is particularly important when recruiting the next generation of leaders who may be thinking about starting or growing their family.

Research by Vodafone has revealed that 21% of 18-34 year olds have turned down a role because they thought the parental support offered was inadequate, whilst 18% have quit their job for the same reason. For those employers that do provide good parental leave policies, 55% would be more likely to apply for a position.

The value of enhanced maternity benefits has a clear positive impact on acquisition and retention, creating a ripple effect on organisational culture and company loyalty. Over 90% of Maven members return to work after leave (compared to 57% of the national average) and 70% report being more productive in the workplace. Implementing maternity policies demonstrates a serious commitment to employee well-being and equity efforts. 

Crafting comprehensive employee maternity benefits: Clinical, emotional, and financial support

In addition to an enhanced paid maternity leave policy and additional unpaid leave, organisations can further expand employee maternity benefits to support the physical and mental health of their workforce.

Prioritising clinical needs

Most parents find themselves needing support outside of what in-person visits to their GP can provide them. Employees commonly need additional help with pregnancy questions, breastfeeding, sleep routines, physical recovery, or any other common concerns before or after the birth of a child. Yet aside from a handful of midwife visits or GP appointments, many people don’t get the care they need. 

That’s why on-demand virtual support is a crucial element of an employer’s maternity benefits. Around-the-clock access to specialists including OB-GYNs, lactation consultants, midwives, and sleep coaches is invaluable.

This support not only helps employees through one of life’s biggest transitions, but also improves their health outcomes. For example, members of Maven’s Maternity and Newborn Care program  see up to 28% lower NICU admissions rates and 20% lower C-section rates.

Supporting emotional well-being

Approximately one in seven women develop postpartum depression after birth, around half of whom go undiagnosed because of stigma or a fear of lack of support. This can impact birthing parents in a number of ways, leading to low mood, disconnection, and for some, the inability to function or care for their child properly.

Others require emotional support to cope with anxiety around pregnancy or birth. Or to understand their feelings around becoming a new parent. This can impact up to one in five women (as well as their partners) during pregnancy or in the first year of parenthood.

By providing better access to mental health support, organisations can ensure their employees get the help they need, when they need it. Support groups and internal peer networks help parents to feel less alone whilst screenings, education, and 1:1 counselling can offer coping mechanisms for postpartum depression and anxiety.

Increasing financial security

With the cost-of-living increasing parallel to the skyrocketing cost of childcare, many parents find it almost impossible to take unpaid leave. However, organisations can grant their employees more time to bond with their children without financial stress by extending paid parental leave or maternity leave. Benefits can also include reimbursements to cover any additional maternity expenses or childcare needs.

From paper to reality: Employee experiences 

The value of employee maternity benefits for both businesses and individuals can be proven time and time again. Up to 96% of Maven’s members are more loyal to their employers because of the benefits program implemented—a result seen by companies including Buzzfeed and Bumble.

One leading life sciences company with over 81,000 employees reported improved health outcomes and lower healthcare costs, with 33% lower emergency department visit rates among maven members vs. non-Maven members.

“Through Maven, we’re able to guide our associates to expert providers to help them navigate fertility treatments, maternity, adoption, or surrogacy. Our associates’ engagement with Maven’s Fertility program proves that associates need so much more support than just a medical benefit.” - Global Benefits Director

Similar results were also seen at Snowflake, a Data Cloud company, who implemented end-to-end family care to their employees on a global scale. One member shared, “the help, resources, and support I have received from Maven during my postpartum journey have been tremendously impactful.” 

Promoting compliance and elevating employee awareness 

The evolving nature of policies

Maternity benefits aren't a one-time solution. They must be periodically reviewed to align with updated regulations and employee needs. Statutory pay typically increases year on year whilst the trends seen in the number of working parents and non-traditional families continues to change.

Successful benefits programs must remain adaptable and should reflect employee feedback to ensure they are utilised.

Empowering employees through knowledge

Many pregnant employees remain unaware of the maternity rights and benefits they have until they speak to HR, and may take unnecessary unpaid leave. Yet having the knowledge of what’s available to them beforehand can help them to navigate this time with reassurance and support.

Maternity benefits like Maven provide access to Care Advocates, clinically-vetted content, classes, and forums to ensure members get the help they need and are empowered to advocate for their rights.

Designing better employee maternity benefits with Maven Clinic 

Maternity benefits are proven to have a positive impact on children, parents, and employers alike. Extended support improves the wellbeing of employees, whilst companies benefit from better talent acquisition, loyalty, and productivity. 

HR leaders must be proactive in going beyond the statutory maternity leave requirements to support the evolving needs of their employers. Maven is a leading employee maternity benefits provider in the UK. Our Maternity and Newborn Care program helps employees to grow healthy families by providing a continuous, preventative approach to care throughout pregnancy, postpartum, and returning to work.

With clinical support and coaching, members and their partners can navigate pregnancy with reduced risk and the care they need. Book a demo to find out more about how Maven can support your employees along their maternity journey and beyond.

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