Volvo’s ‘Family Bond’ scheme

Words by Sophie Parrott

Volvo’s ‘Family Bond’ scheme

Words by Sophie Parrott

Words by Sophie Parrott

Earlier this year, Volvo Cars announced that it was giving all employees 24 weeks’ paid parental leave as part of its new ‘Family Bond’ policy. We find out more about how this scheme works…

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, there has been an increased focus, and rightly so, on working parents due to the raft of new challenges that many have been presented with. Data has pointed towards some of these struggles, whether it be the pressures of homeschooling or looking after children, all the while holding down a job. 2020 research published in Cleo’s The State of Working Parents study found that working parents were losing two full days each week as a result of their childcare responsibilities. Separate 2020 data from Working Families found that one in five working parents in the UK feel that they have been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities since the pandemic hit, highlighting the extent of the struggles. As such, the pandemic has brought the topic of working parents to the forefront of conversation – ensuring that this cohort of workers feel included and supported – as many employers have strived to provide better support and include them in the workforce. 

"I think having those Swedish native values and being a Swedish company is wanting to be equal for all"

Volvo’s ‘Family Bond’ policy

One employer that appears to have been ahead of the curve with its support for working parents is the well-known car brand Volvo Cars. The firm, which has its headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently launched a global, gender-neutral paid parental leave policy. The firm’s ‘Family Bond’ policy was rolled out to employees around the world and gives all global staff 24-weeks paid parental leave. While it was rolled out globally in April 2021, the initiative followed a parental leave pilot which was initially launched in the EMEA region in 2019.

The organisation’s gender-neutral parental leave policy will see staff with at least one year’s service receive a total of 24 weeks of leave, at 80% of their base pay by default. Håkan Samuelsson, Chief Executive of Volvo Cars, said in a statement that the car brand wants to carve out a culture that is supportive of equal parenting for all genders – a move which helps Volvo to be more inclusive of its working parent cohort. “When parents are supported to balance the demands of work and family, it helps to close the gender gap and allows everyone to excel in their careers,” he explained.

"Whatever your background, your current state in your life presents, it's about how [we at Volvo can ensure] that you have got the freedom to move"

‘Wanting to be equal for all’

Volvo’s new and inclusive parental leave policy will benefit a whopping 40,000+ global staff members in all plants and offices. The global policy is inspired by the national legislation in its home market in Sweden, a country in Northern Europe which is renowned for its generous parental leave arrangements. For example, explained that parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, based on income. Gemma Denes, People & Competence Director UK & Ireland at Volvo Car UK, tells myGrapevine magazine: “I think having those Swedish native values and being a Swedish company is wanting to be equal for all.” Whether this is in terms of career opportunities, or more generally throughout the whole organisation, Volvo strives to be equal and inclusive in all that it does. This ambition to be equal is clearly a core part of Volvo’s global equal paid parental leave policy and thought has even been given to improving comms around this to encourage uptake of the policy and tackle some of the obstacles that have traditionally hindered uptake.

What are Volvo’s core values?

“Safety and sustainability are the cornerstones of the Volvo brand. Volvo Cars has one of the most ambitious climate plans in the car industry.

"We aim to reduce our CO2 emissions per car by 40% between now and 2025, a first tangible step towards our long-term goal of becoming climate neutral by 2040.

"We realise that electrification alone is not enough, and so our climate ambitions go beyond radically reducing tailpipe emissions through all-out electrification.

"We will also tackle carbon emissions in our manufacturing network, our wider operations, our supply chain and through our approach to recycling and reuse of materials."

Accelerating its default position

A wealth of research has pointed towards various obstacles that may hinder the uptake of parental leave, whether this is concerns about the potential impact on careers or a cultural mindset about what is expected in the workplace and at home. For example, 2019 Ipsos MORI data found that almost three in ten women (29%) thought that taking maternity leave had had a negative impact on their career. The study found that 45% of both parents and non-parents agreed that “taking time off work to care for a child has a negative impact on a person’s job”, with little difference between men (44%) and women (47%). Elsewhere, 2017 data from Working Families suggested that 48% of fathers would not take up their right to parental leave, with a third stating that they could not afford to do so.

With research pointing towards some of the obstacles hindering uptake, Volvo has presented the 24 weeks of paid parental leave as a pre-selected option, with the company hoping to create a ‘default effect’. This, according to Volvo’s website, is because staff may be more likely to stick with pre-selected options. Denes explains: “For us, a really key point in the policy is that this is our default position and I think this is really strong…” Volvo’s people lead went on to say that the firm expects staff – she says uses this word lightly, though, as the policy is not mandatory – to make use of this policy because Volvo is supportive of them doing so. “The expectation is that [working parents will take it and the policy is] supporting and encouraging people to take it. I think what that does is create an equal platform if you like [where] there is no negative thought towards people taking parental leave,” she adds. By having it as a ‘default position’– that of course employees can opt out of it – Volvo is supporting and encouraging either parent to take parental leave which demonstrates how it is striving to be inclusive of this cohort of workers. This support extends to the scope of staff that are eligible for it.

"For us, a really key point in the policy is that this is our default position and I think this is really strong"

Convertible concepts

Volvo’s new global policy treats and supports all types of working parent and family circumstances in an equal manner. There are no limitations on gender, age, or marital status according to the firm and it applies to all legally registered parents, including adoptive, foster care and surrogate parents, as well as non-birth parents in same-sex couples. By having this, Denes says she thinks this created a level playing field for employees, especially working parents at Volvo. “….I think it [has] just created a real level playing field for everybody to be able to spend time raising their family which I think [some] traditionally wouldn’t do because they would fear what it could do to their career.”

To provide maximum flexibility, working parents have freedom over when they can take this time off too. Denes explains that Volvo staff are able to take this leave anytime within the first three years of parenthood, providing an extra layer of flexibility to take the leave when it best suits their family and lifestyle.

While the news of the policy wasn’t new information to staff working in EMEA – given that Volvo had trialled the scheme there in 2019 – the consensus from working parents appears to be positive. Denes explains that there was a lot of talk around ‘Family Bond’ from colleagues around the world, who shared their personal experiences and also reflected on what was available to them in terms of parental leave when they had families. “That was really personal. I think our people reacted really positively because it was people showing up as humans and showing that life can be tough for people when you first have children.”

Insight company logo

Gemma on ‘coffee & cake break’

Since the pandemic hit, and many employees have been working from home in the UK, keeping employees engaged has been a top priority for HR.

Yet, with such a big and diverse workforce to cater to, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to keeping staff engaged, which is why Volvo deployed a range of different initiatives during this time.

One of the daily initiatives that Volvo has hosted is what the car brand refers to as ‘Fika’ – a Swedish term which often translates to a coffee and cake break.

Tapping into the firm’s Swedish heritage, staff at Volvo can join ‘Fika’ over Teams at 11’oclock every day.

Denes explains: “It is about having a break with colleagues and friends and just taking a step back from work.”

And colleagues are given the flexibility to choose how this time is used.

“Everybody’s diary is blocked out with ‘Fika’, which either means if you want to join and chat to people you can, but actually if you just want a bit of alone time and just want a break, it gives you that as well because every diary is blocked out,” she adds.

Mapping out D&I

Yet, Volvo’s support and inclusion of working parents is just one part of it though. The Swedish-headquartered brand strives to take a holistic view of employee inclusion to ensure that all staff needs are catered to. And this alongside ‘Family Bond’ has sparked the creation of several other D&I initiatives including ‘Flexible Bank Holidays’ for Volvo staff in the UK which will be rolled out later this month. Denes explained: “To embrace our diverse workforce, we will be unfixing some of the UK bank holidays and providing these flexibly to employees alongside their normal holiday allowance. This will enable employees, who don’t celebrate or utilise the UK bank holidays, to use on other dates that are more important and beneficial to them which will maximise the personal impact of their annual holiday entitlement.” Recognising the different cultural makeup of their workforce, and allowing staff to use bank holidays more flexibly, is inclusive.

In addition to this, Volvo Cars UK is set to launch a ‘Sabbatical Leave’ initiative, which will allow employees with at least two years’ service to request a career break of between six to 12 months from the business. While Volvo explained that this leave will be unpaid, service will be protected and employees can return to the same role that they left after their break. “This leave is intended to support employees at all ages and stages of life, to provide time away from work for personal, family, developmental or wellbeing reasons,” Denes adds.


'Demonstrating and living our values’

The car brand’s Swedish-inspired ‘Family Bond’ policy is a good example of how Volvo has strived to support and include its cohort of working parents. From the gender-neutral nature of its policy, to the flexibility regarding when it can be taken, Volvo’s policy has been crafted with employees at centre, and giving them the flexibility that they need to make it work for them. Data has pointed towards the business benefits of having a supportive and inclusive company culture. For example, data published in McKinsey&Company’s 2015 Why Diversity Matters report – as was reported by Qclearsite – found that companies who actively spearhead D&I initiatives are 35% more likely to achieve above-average returns. And it seems that this is a core part of thinking at Volvo. “We have always been a family-oriented and human-centric company. Through the ‘Family Bond’ programme, we are demonstrating and living our values, which in turn will strengthen our brand,” Volvo’s CEO explained in a previous statement.