All working parents know that balancing work and family life can be a challenge. The past 18 months have brought this into sharper relief than ever before, with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions meaning many of us spent a significant time working from home with children to care for at the same time. The great news is that New Zealand offers some substantial benefits to help make working parents' lives more manageable. Here are some perks worth investigating.
1. Flexible and Part-time Work Opportunities
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic response is that changes in Alert Levels forced employers to think outside the box and embrace a more flexible way of working. It's now common for companies to offer a balance of office and home working, particularly beneficial for employees juggling work with busy family life. If your company isn't proactively offering these opportunities, and you need more support to balance your work and family commitments, it's essential to know your rights. Were you aware that your employer has to consider any requests for changes in hours, days and places of work?
For parents who feel that part-time work is a good fit with their family life, the good news is that the number of part-time roles available is steadily rising. There are now over half a million Kiwis working part-time, while there has been a slight decline in full-time employment. This is not a simple positive, because some people who want full-time work find they can only attain part-time roles. However, if part-time is what you're after, there are plenty of great opportunities out there. Bear in mind that if you're at the interview stage with a job, it's best to wait until the offer is on the table before negotiating on hours and flexibility. You're in a stronger position to negotiate working conditions once you know you're the preferred candidate.
2. Paid Parental Leave (and possible top-ups)
New Zealand's paid parental leave provision has improved dramatically over the last few years, and employees are now entitled to 26 weeks of parental leave payments while they are off work caring for their new baby. Some companies, particularly larger ones, top-up their employees' parental leave and even allow you to accrue annual leave while you're on parental leave. 2Degrees, for example, recently announced they would top up paid parental leave to 100% of an employee's base salary. More and more companies are getting on board with this kind of policy because they recognise how it increases retention and staff satisfaction — which is excellent news for families and parents-to-be.
3. 20 Hours Free Childcare a Week
All children aged 3-5 who attend an early learning service are entitled to 20 hours of subsidised Early Childhood Education if their service offers it. Remember to ask about whether this funding is available when you're choosing an ECE option for your child. The subsidy is available for everyone regardless of income or citizenship status, and you can use it for as many or as few hours as you like.
4. Help with Before and After School Care
The Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) Subsidy is a payment to assist families with before and after school care costs for up to 20 hours a week and school holiday programmes for up to 50 hours a week. The programmes are carefully assessed, so parents can be confident that they are safe and well-run. Unlike 20 Hours ECE, the OSCAR subsidy is only available to low- or middle-income families, where there is no parent or caregiver at home to look after the child during these hours.
5. Tax and Insurance Perks
Working for Families Tax Credits are payments to support families in raising their children. They're calculated based on your family's income and circumstances; not everyone is eligible, but it's definitely worth checking. You can access types of payments, including the Best Start payment for parents supporting a newborn and the in-work tax credit for working families. In terms of health insurance, an increasing number of Kiwi businesses see that offering cover that extends to their employees' families results in increased loyalty and productivity and helps attract talent. It's most common to find this on offer in small to medium organisations.
6. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Support
It made the headlines when Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime breastfed her three-month-old baby in Parliament. But it's not just Parliament where you can breastfeed on the job: all employers are bound by law to provide suitable facilities and breaks for mothers to breastfeed their children. However, a Women's Health Action survey found that over a third of employers are unaware of the legislation around workplace breastfeeding. If you feel your employer is not meeting your needs, you have the right to ask for changes. Another legal right that many mums-to-be are unaware of is that they are entitled to up to 10 days of paid leave during pregnancy to attend pregnancy-related appointments and antenatal classes.
7. Onsite Childcare
Childcare in the workplace is a huge perk, especially when your children are still very young. A study in the Journal of Managerial Psychology found that employees who could access onsite childcare had better attendance and work performance than their colleagues who used offsite childcare and even their colleagues without children! While a minority of New Zealand workplaces offer onsite childcare, it's worth researching if it's important to you. Universities, hospitals and some private companies and government agencies can offer this perk.
8. Companies With Parent-Friendly Cultures
Thankfully, policies to help retain employees after they start a family are now mainstream. There is an expectation that companies that offer a family-friendly environment will outperform those that fail to. It pays to do some research into companies you'd like to work for. Does the company have a reputation for supporting parents? Think about what a family-friendly workplace means to you, and take a careful look at the organisation's website and social media presence to see if the culture reflected is a good match.