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Analytical paper

The experiences of those who take parental leave within the public sector and the policies that support them (AP 18/01)

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
View point: 
Publication category: 
JEL classification: 
L38 - Public Policy
J08 - Labor Economics Policies
J38 - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs: Public Policy
J58 - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining: Public Policy
Fiscal year: 


This research highlights some recent experiences of public sector employees returning to work from parental leave and summarises the parental leave policies in place across the public sector. The employees were either on leave or had returned in the past 12 months and were employed by public service and non-public service departments in the state sector. Forty-nine employees participated in focus groups in Wellington and Auckland or in phone interviews across the country. This qualitative research method was combined with a quantitative survey that was sent to human resources (HR) teams in public service departments and non-public service departments. Twenty-six out of 28 departments contacted participated in the survey.

Participants’ parental leave experiences were generally positive, but participants were still able to provide practical suggestions for improving the experience of taking parental leave. Before going on leave, employees found information hard to come by, and noted that managers and HR had varying levels of knowledge and policies and processes. Reflecting on the experiences they had while on leave, participants noted the level of communication between employer and employee, as well as access to performance and remuneration reviews, as areas of concern. They also noted a lack of information regarding agency-specific entitlements on return to work and expressed concerns over the options for flexible working. Participants observed a high degree of managerial autonomy in making decisions about flexible working, and noted that this could result in variation of opportunities for employees, even within agencies.

HR policies were found to be varied across the sector. The result is that employees in different agencies may have different opportunities and financial outcomes even though they are all employed in the public sector. Consideration could be given to whether greater alignment of parental leave policies would be more equitable for public sector staff. Opportunities for future research include extending the same enquiries to private sector employers.


We would like to thank all the people who participated in this research project and the Government Women’s Network for helping us send
out the request for participants.

We would like to acknowledge the external researcher, Alison Gray, of Gray Matter Research.


The views, opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Analytical Paper are strictly those of the author(s). They do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Zealand Treasury or the New Zealand Government. The New Zealand Treasury and the New Zealand Government take no responsibility for any errors or omissions in, or for the correctness of, the information contained in these analytical papers. The paper is presented not as policy, but with a view to inform and stimulate wider debate.

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 18 April 2018