Sana Mohamed Suhail, ECA director general, at the press conference Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The UAE, which is encouraging organisations to be more supportive towards working parents, today launched the Parent Friendly Label voluntary programme for organisations and companies across the country.

The voluntary workplace award programme by the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA) has already recognised six companies in Abu Dhabi for its first cycle of awards, and is now encouraging applications from other organisations across the UAE.

The award was launched by Sheikh Theyab Bin Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ECA chairman.

“We know that positive interaction between a parent and child promotes healthy brain development in the early years, and a child’s brain development is completed up to 95 per cent by the age of six years. This programme supports parents to balance life and work, and empowers them to provide the best care for their children,” Sana Mohamed Suhail, ECA director general, said at the launch press conference.

Representatives of the first cycle of Parent Friendly Label awardees at a panel discussion. Image Credit: Supplied

“It is no secret that parenthood is a juggling act, and working parenthood adds another layer of complexity. While every parent’s situation is different, it all comes down to one need – the need for flexibility and understanding of their responsibilities. Organisations embarks on a journey to better understand and cater to these needs are raising industry standards and making a statement about the value of their employees who have young families,” she added.

Preference for flexibility

UAE-wide surveys have previously reported that up to 90 per cent of full-time working parents in the country want flexible workplaces that offer hybrid and remote working options. Globally, up to 71 per cent of workers have also expressed willingness to switch their jobs to organisations that offer better options.

The Parent Friendly Label programme therefore looks at the level of parent-friendly policies implemented within applying organisations, grouped into the categories of parental leave, flexible work, family care, family wellbeing, and workplace culture. Allowances made for parents of children with determination are also appreciated. Applicants can apply to reach PFL level, which means that the policies exceed the requirements set out in the UAE labour law, or PFL+, which means that policies for working parents meet or exceed global best practices.

The UAE saw an unprecedented level of remote working options being made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many organisations have continued to offer hybrid working options for employees. Meanwhile, the Labour Law stipulates 60 days of paid maternity leave for mothers, and additional days of unpaid leave. It also allows for up to one hour of nursing breaks a day for the six months after delivery.

The first cycle of awardees who met the PFL level include HSBC, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), Emirates Nature-WWF, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, Etihad Airways, and Silal. ECA officials said the award had already proved successful in inspiring a rethink of the challenges for working parents, and a re-examination of workplace cultures and attitudes in Abu Dhabi. Recognised parent-friendly policies among the awardees included bonding leave for adoptive parents, extended paternity leave, and flexible maternity leaves.

Such parent-friendly policies have proven benefits for young children’s overall health and development, and the wellbeing of employees. There are also positive effects for organisations, which experience less absenteeism, better employee retention and loyalty, and higher employee morale and productivity.

According to the ECA, the first cycle of the Parent Friendly Label programme engaged more than 20,000 employees at 70 organisations, and positively impacted 6,600 children. This year, the award programme will also extend to schools, as well as to semi-government, private, or third sectors across the UAE.

The application process is free, and each applicant will receive a report on what its current strengths are in terms of family-friendly policies, and where it can improve further, Laila Al Hassan, ECA advisor on organisation culture and lead on the Parent Friendly Label.

“The feedback we’ve received from the Cycle 1 winners is that the judging criteria are ambitious, yet achievable, and that they’ve helped start the conversation between human resources and management,” she added.

Given that the award is now accepting application from across the nation, the ECA expects more applications in the second cycle. The application deadline has been set for May 12, 2023.

Once awarded, the Label is valid for two years, with a check-in carried out after 12 months.

“Just as the UAE has bold ambitions on the global stage, we want to encourage UAE-based organisations to be bold in their ambitions too. Through this programme, we are targeting as many organisations as possible to help parents achieve a balance between work, family and childcare in their early yearsm and contribute to enhancing their participation in supporting the early childhood development process. We hope employers across the country take initiative, and apply to earn the Label, thus playing their part in building a prosperous future for organisations and society,” Suhail said.

What Parent Friendly Label awardees got right

HSBC: Hybrid working model, additional support for parents with children of determination, employee resource groups to support parents at various stages

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar): Family wellness programme, employee assistance programme, nursing room facilities, flexible working allowances, considerations for parents of children with determinations

Emirates-Nature-WWF: Flexible work policy, 28 days paternity leave, shorter working week, remote working during summer

Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management: Flexible maternity leave, four-day working week trials, remote working policy

Etihad Airways: Generous maternity leave, domestic helper search, discount vouchers, remote work for some parents, flexible time policies, reduced working hours on Fridays

Silal: Flexible working hours for new mothers, adoption policies