Advil maker offering 26 weeks of paid parental leave: It’s ‘the right thing to do’

When consumer healthcare company Haleon was established in July 2022 after splitting off from GSK Consumer Health, the newly established firm—maker of Advil, ChapStick, Tums and scores of other brands—knew it wanted to continue many of GSK’s guiding principles, like a strong culture and a focus on employees. But it also knew it had an opportunity to do something that would set the company apart when it came to its 22,000 global employees and the benefits it offered to them.

“GSK has always been a values-based company. It’s always been an employee-centric organization and a great place to work,” explains Matthew Culhane, vice president of human resources, North America, at Haleon.

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Being a new company and one that could operate differently, though, gave Culhane and other executives the chance “to think about our policies and think about how we support our employees and try to make sure that it feels very unique and very bespoke to our company’s purpose.”

Before the company officially separated into its own firm, company leaders began talking to other leaders and employees, digging into the kind of things that “we can do to make sure that our organization more reflects who we stand for as a company and the kinds of things we want to be a part of and want to be known for,” Culhane says.

There were a couple of benefits that came to mind for Haleon executives immediately. A comprehensive and competitive paid parental leave policy, which seemed like a rarity among U.S. employers, was one. That would help employees at a time when they needed it, plus it would fit into Haleon’s mission as a healthcare company. Offering employees shares was the other—an opportunity to give workers a feeling of ownership in the company, not to mention helping to boost employees’ finances during a precarious economic time.

The result? On the official date of its separation from GSK, July 18, Haleon granted shares to all permanent employees of Haleon Group, excluding its executive team, as of its separation date. Shares will vest in July 2025, the third anniversary of the separation (provided the employee remains employed with Haleon).

The firm also announced a whopping 26-week paid parental leave policy. Beginning Jan. 1, all employees globally will be entitled to 26 weeks of fully paid parental leave following the arrival of a child into their lives; the policy is open to all employees, regardless of gender or sexuality, and covers biological birth, surrogacy and adoption.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” Culhane says, adding that he views the parental leave plan “as an important policy that supports our employees at a point in time that matters a lot.”

It’s a generous policy: According to research, just 35% of organizations say they offer paid maternity leave and 27% offer paid paternity leave, according to the latest available data from the Society for Human Resource Management. Many employer policies are limited to a few weeks, while many are not inclusive to both genders or all types of family additions.

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Culhane, unsurprisingly, sees Haleon’s competitive parental leave policy as a way to differentiate the company from other organizations. That’s especially important in a tight labor market, where employees have their pick of employers and benefits can be the deciding factor. “We aspire to be an employer of choice; we aspire to be a place that outstanding talent aspires to work at,” he says. “We do think it helps add to our attractiveness as an employer, this helps our employer brand and it helps the external world understand a little bit more about what we stand for.”

As much as the parental leave policy stands out as a competitive factor, Culhane hopes it also is seen as the right thing to do and kickstarts a movement in the parental leave space. He would love to see other employers instate their own competitive policies. “I don’t want to stand out for long,” he says. “I’d like other companies to follow us. It’s important in every country, but it’s clearly a bigger tale in the U.S., because many companies still have, in some instances, eight weeks paid maternity leave. That seems insufficient and inappropriate.” (Of Haleon’s 22,000 global employees, about 4,700 are in the U.S.)

Paid parental leave has made movements over the years, especially among large firms or certain industries like tech. For instance, Meta offers four months of paid parental leave, and Twitter offers 20 weeks. And Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a global biopharmaceutical company, recently rolled out its own 26-week paid parental leave policy.

Despite some progress, competitive family leave programs are still rare, and movement in the space has generally taken a backseat over the past few years as investments were made in other benefits as a result of COVID-19, including healthcare, mental health, caregiving and financial benefits. And, as Culhane acknowledges, offering paid long-term leave policies can be tricky to manage from both a staffing and monetary perspective.

Still, Culhane says, it’s about finding the right benefits that help define a company’s mission and purpose. And, of course, it’s connected to making the lives of employees better—which, in turn, will make the employer better. Haleon will continue to add and invest in other benefits changes, he says, primarily driven by their values.

“We’re on a journey to become a human-focused healthcare company focused on wellbeing,” he says. “Companies should be guided by their purpose. What better way to live into this purpose than to support our employees at this important time in their lives?”

To learn more about benefits changes that firms are making to retain and help employees, including family-friendly policies, don’t miss HRE’s 2023 Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, which will be held May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Learn more and register here.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.