New mothers given helping hand at Robert Bosch Middle East

Robert Bosch Middle East’s flexible working policies for its UAE staff mean new mothers don’t feel guilty going to work.

For the past three years the electronics company, based in Dubai Airport Free Zone, has offered flexible working hours and part-time options for mothers returning from maternity leave.

Any of its 110 employees can work from home for up to four days a month, start at any time from 7am to 10am (to help with children’s school pickups, avoid traffic or do sports) or ask for a shift in weekend to accommodate family functions, a Friday meeting or even a child’s football practice.

Maternity leave stretches to 14 weeks with full pay, instead of the statutory 45 days, with the option to return part-time for 18 months thereafter – either doing a six-hour work day at full pay or a four-hour work day at two-thirds pay, with a guarantee of a job at the end with the same responsibilities.

“Every country is responsible for deciding the best flexibility within Bosch,” says head of HR Simone Beretta. “The maternity leave is the biggest change we introduced and is more than double what is offered under UAE labour law.”

Mr Beretta says some of its flexible options in the UAE are even better than some Bosch benchmarks in Europe.

“Maternity leave is still not as good as, say, Sweden or Germany, but it’s very good compared to the Middle East and the US,” she adds. “Businesses who are succeeding today are those who truly invest in the individuals who work for them in terms of training, work-life flexibility and the needs of new parents.”

Accounting manager Ronna Lansang, 32, from the Philippines, has worked at Bosch for six years. Her first son, now four, was born before the changes came in and she extended her statutory maternity leave with holiday to stretch her time with her newborn to two-and-a-half months. In contrast, since her second son, now one, was born, she has been able to enjoy extended maternity leave and now works a six-hour week while still being paid her full salary.

“I feel less guilty with leaving my children, and working and being a mother with all these options,” she says. “Sometimes I come in at 7.30am, sometimes 9.30am – it varies from day to day and it’s up to me.

“I have a nanny for when me and my husband are working and my elder son goes in on the school bus, so I take care of the baby in the morning. I feed him, bathe him and then prepare myself. I can’t always work just six hours, but sometimes I don’t even do six, say if my son is sick. There is lots of flexibility.”

According to a survey by recruitment specialists MCG Group, three-quarters of professional women in the GCC who were not working said it was the lack of flexible working options that had forced them to quit their jobs – and an overwhelming 98 per cent said they would return to the workplace if they could get the balance right.

Logistics company DHL, which was recently named the best workplace in the UAE for the third year running by the Great Place to Work survey, offers three months’ paid maternity leave, which can be extended to six months, as well as the option for new mothers to take a flexi, four-day work week for an additional seven months. “We take great pride in our people,” says senior HR director Anu Daga.

“Even in front-line roles such as customer service and sales we have been able to offer part-time roles for a short period. We look at cases on an individual basis.”

Retailer The One, which came second in the annual survey, only gives the statutory 45 paid days’ maternity leave but does allow new mothers to work part-time for the next 12 months, as long as they work at least half their hours.

If they choose to return to full-time employment they can work an hour a day less until the baby is 18 months old, according to HR services manager Linda Senior.

And media agency Omnicom Media Group, which took third place in the annual benchmarking study, offers new mothers the option to work from home or part-time until they feel ready to return full-time.

“We’ve had several instances of this in the last five years,” says Fadi Chamat, regional executive director of human capital.

The company has also added two days of paternity leave for new fathers (who receive no statutory benefits), something Bosch also offers. While new dads will appreciate the gesture, it falls far behind Germany (where new parents can take up to 14 months of parental leave on 65 per cent of their salary) and Sweden (which gives 480 days of shared parental leave, 90 of which are reserved for the father).

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