Parents are given up to $1000 a month to support childcare fees when they work at the electronic property settlement provider, Property Exchange Australia (PEXA).
It’s an extraordinary policy introduced by the firm of around 350 staff back in 2019, and one that turned a lot of heads upon its announcement given its financial generosity in supporting parents to cover this work-related cost.
It was around that time also that Linda Hibberd joined that organisation, as Chief People Officer, to help the business in supporting all staff in doing their best work.
I spoke to Hibberd for the Family Friendly Workplaces Podcast, an initiative of Parents at Work and UNICEF Australia asking how leaders are creating more supportive workplaces that acknowledge the needs and caring responsibilities staff have outside of work.
Hibberd’s a mother of two primary school aged kids herself, both of whom were in the next room when we spoke, undertaking remote learning activities during Melbourne’s lockdown, as is the norm for millions of parents across Australia right now.
Hibberd said that the $1000 a month childcare payment is one of a number of policies that emerged after the organisation actively sought to ask people about the pain points they were experiencing in their careers and life decision making. By asking all employee what kind of support they needed, they then established a suite of policies going well beyond those supporting parents with young children.
On childcare specifically, PEXA wanted to help enable parents to make decisions about their work and career that were not based on the costs of childcare. Almost two years later, the policy is financially benefiting around 10% of staff.
But Hibberd says it goes much further than directly supporting those parents. “There was genuine excitement and pride when we announced that, including from those who don’t have children,” she said. “There is that pride as an organisation, that we are wanting to support our people and support families.”
They should be proud. This policy is one that extends well beyond what almost any other employer is currently offering parents. It was also announced well before COVID-19 pushed a number of additional competing pressures on to parents, particularly mothers who have been taking a huge part of the load during lockdowns. It highlights how serious this organisation is about retaining and supporting the career development of staff.
As PEXA CEO Marcus Price said at the time of announcing the initiative, very “few employers are doing enough”. Back then he also commented on their new parental leave policy — which includes 20 weeks paid leave for primary carers plus an additional six weeks that can be taken flexibly, as well as 12 weeks for secondary carers. He described parental leave policies as “make or break” for an employer when it comes to supporting parents with their career growth and retention, and “absolutely necessary for us as a business.”
Other initiatives PEXA has rolled out for supporting staff include wellbeing days for everyone, a ‘Wellbeing Hub’ offering a number of supporting mechanisms, as well as a flexible working policy that — during non-lockdown periods at least — aims to give staff choice about working from home or not.
Called PEXA Flex, Hibberd says this policy calls on teams to make a commitment to come together at least once a week in person.
“We found that people love working at PEXA because of the connections,” she said. “So we want to enable this. We also have ‘connect’ events and team forums. It’s about coming in for a purpose, to connect and engage and brainstorm — then the rest of the week is up to you. You can come into the office every day if that’s how you like to work and get your energy, but equally you can work from home.”
Another initiative is PEXA’s school holiday program, which sees their training room in Melbourne repurposed during school holidays and decorated and prepared for days of school kid activities, set along different themes and run by teachers. In lockdown, the program is offered virtually.
The tag-team approach
Hibberd has leadership responsibility for managing people in a fast-growing company that’s prioritising staff engagement. Asked how she makes her own leadership ‘family friendly’ she’s upfront in how she does it — taking a tag-team approach with her partner.
Hibberd’s currently working full time while her husband works part time, but they have been changing their working arrangements around to support each other’s careers at different times since the birth of their first son 11 years ago.
“We had a conversation at that time, and have had multiple conversations since, about how we wanted to parent together. Over the years, we’ve had 50/50 care but at certain points in time one has taken the lead over the other.”
Find out what your people actually want
PEXA’s offering the type of bold family-friendly initiatives that are usually reserved for very large firms that can absorb some of the costs associated with them. Not all enterprises of this size are prepared to offer paid parental leave, let alone great flexible working policies and childcare support.
So what advice does Hibberd have for those businesses that are looking to do more?
For one, she says it doesn’t need to start with offering a $1000 a week childcare supplement, nor do other employers need to directly copy what others are doing. Rather, find out what your specific team members actually want.
“The first thing to do is to actively engage with your people to understand what’s important to them” she said. “Determine if what is important to your people actually aligns with what you’re offering.
“The childcare piece we have is a differentiator, but you don’t need to start with that. There are many other smaller things that can be done.”
You can listen to the Women’s Agenda interview with Linda on the Family Friendly Workplaces podcast below.