Agencies – act now to ensure your parental leave policy is ahead of the game!

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Posted: Feb 2022

Don’t risk losing out on great people

Employee benefits have a big say in recruitment and retention. They offer a genuine competitive advantage for employers looking to build the most talented team of employees. Furthermore, a good employee benefits offering is a great bargaining chip in negotiating with potential new employees.

We know that in-house roles are more attractive to comms professionals. According to the findings of our Annual Salary Guide 2021, only 11% of professionals would consider an agency role if they were to move jobs, 7% would freelance, 4% would set up their own business, 8% would leave the industry, but a whopping 69% of professionals would like an in-house role. The fact that such a small percentage of professionals are interested in moving to an agency role (a figure that has been decreasing every year) and that an in-house role holds greater appeal is not new news.

However, agency bosses don’t seem to realise why they are not getting volumes of great professionals offered to them for their jobs, or why vacancies are open for months.

The desire for in-house is so strong that it’s leaving agencies high and dry when it comes to talent. Compounded by higher turnover, agency leaders are frustrated that they can’t find enough Account Directors, Account Managers and Executives.

Is it time to review maternity pay benefits?

We know that certain benefits offerings can be deciding factors in a candidate’s decision to accept or reject a role.

In-house companies offer higher value benefits, and more of them offer maternity and paternity leave. Our Salary Guide revealed that 40% of in-house respondents received maternity pay (where the company contributes) and 22% received paternity pay. This is almost double the number of agency respondents – only 26% of respondents received maternity pay, and 11% paternity pay.

We were prompted to look more closely at maternity pay recently, when an Associate Director was comparing multiple job offers side by side. She requested details on the maternity pay that each agency was offering, as this was clearly high on her agenda in the decision-making process.

What kind of maternity pay benefits are agencies offering?

In the UK, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. Mothers will get 90% of average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, then £151.97 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

But that's not to say that companies can't provide better maternity leave packages. In fact, plenty of companies across the comms industry are doing just that, implementing parental leave policies for all parents, regardless of their gender or how their child has been welcomed into the world.

When we took a closer look at corporate communications agencies of all sizes (small, medium, and large), we discovered they are all offering something different, and the deals were not always very appealing.

There were agencies with no formal policies, offering no additional pay (nothing on top of statutory pay), and others that offer around 3 months’ full pay. In fact, 3 months’ full pay seems to be quite common among small and medium-sized agencies, with some larger consultancies offering 4-4.5 months’ full pay. We did come across one small agency offering 6 months’ full pay, clearly wanting to outshine the industry norm.

What does fair maternity pay look like for corporate comms consultancies?

We often hear, ‘We are only a small agency so we offer statutory pay’. In this candidate-short market, can agencies afford not to review their maternity pay contributions?

According to the PRCA census of 2019, 67% of comms professionals are women. And by the time they get to a senior level, they only make up a third of the industry. Many have left the industry and a large number have moved to in-house comms teams. Agency life hasn’t traditionally been very flexible when it comes to working practices, which is not easy if you choose to have a family. The better work/life balance and greater control over your diary is a big incentive for women to work in-house.

Furthermore, it’s no secret that agencies tend to think carefully about their margins so perhaps it’s time to invest in creating a really great employee value proposition. In a market where agencies are struggling to hire and retain female talent, is now the time to shine a light on maternity pay?

We appreciate that maternity/paternity pay is an expensive outlay when you’re paying someone for an extended period whilst they're not actually working in the business, as well as paying the person who is covering them in the meantime. However, look at it from another perspective. It is far cheaper than paying executive search firm fees to replace them, not forgetting the time and effort required to train new recruits.

What is competitive?

Perhaps your agency isn’t in a place to offer 6 months’ full pay but consider this – the direction of travel for talent is most decidedly away from agencies, for both men and women, and it’s happening at EVERY level.

Agencies: these corporates are your competition for great people. It’s leaving you with a very small pool. When they can offer impressive maternity and paternity pay contributions, you may appreciate when we say, if you haven’t already done so, it really is time to review your policy. We need to keep great female talent in the industry, moving up the ladder. Now that agencies are working in a more flexible way, you do stand a better chance of holding on to them, so make the necessary changes to ensure they are well looked after, and you stay competitive.

The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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