EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Leave-related Measures – Hewlett Packard, Ireland


Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsCare-related supports

Company / organisation name

Hewlett Packard, Ireland

Initiative name

HR policies and practices

About the company / organisation

Hewlett Packard in Ireland runs nine different businesses with over 4,000 employees in the areas of manufacturing, research and development, customer software support, marketing, and sales and services. The main site for HP in Ireland is located in Leixlip, Co Kildare, and HP also has sites in Galway, Belfast and Dublin.

The initiative

Hewlett Packard has a long-standing ethos of flexibility that underpins its provisions to address work–life balance and more general HR needs of its workforce. The approach is an inclusive one, with the same set of policies and guidelines being available to all staff. Within this inclusive perspective, it is recognised that different types and levels of support may be needed at particular stages of the lifecycle. They can also depend on particular events that can arise during one’s life. Caring is one such situation that staff may experience, and carers are addressed in company HR policies and day-to-day practices.

The main provisions of relevance for working carers are leave-related policies and opportunities for flexible working. The possibility to include cover for dependants within health (insurance) benefits is also relevant.

The approach to leave is not restricted to the statutory minimum requirements; available provisions are available in any genuine case of need are substantially more generous and flexible. In addition to various other forms of leave (such as maternity leave, paternity leave, and force majeure leave), the company provides (statutory) carer’s leave and special leave. Both of these are of particular relevance for carers.

Carer’s leave is available in accordance with Irish legislation. In addition, the company has a policy of providing various forms of special leave that are accessed through requests to one’s manager. Whilst these benefits are discretionary, they seek to provide employees with much more than the minimum statutory requirements. They are considered an attractive aspect of the company benefits/remuneration package.

The company policy states that special leave provides managers increased flexibility in pursuit of company business objectives. It gives employees the opportunity to more effectively balance the needs of their personal and work lives. It is felt that the company-wide ‘flexibility ethos’ ensures that managers are sensitive to and effective in identifying genuine and pressing needs in this area. There is a commitment to investigating the feasibility of all requests and accommodating them where possible. It is recognised that this may not always be possible, due to business needs.

Personal leave of absence may be allowed for work–life balance reasons, normally for a maximum of one year. Where the leave is more than six weeks, it is unpaid. Special leave of less than six weeks duration may be paid or unpaid, by agreement from the appropriate manager and human resources, depending on circumstances. Paid leave of up to six weeks may be available under justifiable circumstances, for example, caring for a spouse or parent who is seriously or terminally ill. When required, such leave may be extended on an unpaid basis.

When carers are on leave, the company’s policy is to keep the employee connected to the work environment. This is the responsibility of the employee’s manager. For example, they may be provided with laptops at home and encouraged to go online to get news about work and to keep in touch with colleagues.

Pension and other relevant benefits, such as health insurance, are maintained when employees are on leave; the company continues its contributions and staff are expected to do likewise.

In addition to leave provisions, the company facilitates a range of flexible working arrangements, including flexitime, part-time working, job sharing and compressed working week. This approach reflects HP’s commitment to encouraging employees and managers to work together to achieve common company objectives, while creating opportunities for balancing work with other life activities. Both the spirit and intent of the policy aim to support the company goal of creating a more inclusive work environment. The company is committed to investigating the feasibility of the variety of arrangements that may be sought. At the same time, it is recognised that business needs may not always allow such arrangements to be accommodated.

Company benefits are maintained while an employee works on a reduced hours arrangement, either in full or on a pro-rata basis, as appropriate. Performance, suitability for promotion and development needs are assessed in the same way as for full-time employees. The company policy is that a person on flexible working arrangements will not be disadvantaged as a result of this.

Finally, the company’s provision of health (insurance) benefits for staff is relevant to carers. HP offers a standard, default level of benefit covering the employee and their spouse and dependants. Employees can also include other dependants, such as their parents, in their own cover; this is funded by the employee.

Rationale and background of the initiative

HP’s ‘flexibility ethos’, which is a core feature of its HR policy and practice, provides the framework for its provisions for carers. Staff surveys have consistently found that employees perceive flexibility, in its various forms, as a very significant benefit. More generally, it is felt that investments in flexibility provide good returns for the company in terms of staff performance and loyalty.

The company is aware of challenges posed by caring for older parents and other types of caring situation. This has been discussed in the HR context, in both the Irish and UK operations. It is relevant that the workforce includes many employees who have been with the company for a long time. This workforce is getting older and there an increasing number of employees have needs in relation to caring for a spouse or other dependant. Another pertinent fact is the high number of couples within the workforce; the specific caring needs faced by couples, when one becomes ill and needs to be cared for by the other, are becoming increasingly visible.

Results and assessment

Both leave and flexible working arrangements have been found to be helpful for carers, depending on their needs and circumstances. Both sets of provisions are valued by carers.

As regards leave provisions, experience would suggest that various forms of special leave may often be of greater value to carers than the longer-term statutory carer’s leave. This is particularly so regarding shorter periods of paid leave. Statutory carer’s leave has been taken up by some staff, for example, those caring for children with disabilities. So far, however, only a relatively small number of carers have taken this option. One factor is that this kind of long-term leave is unpaid. Most working carers would be eligible for the state-provided Carers Benefit whilst on carer’s leave, but this is generally not sufficient to avoid substantial income loss whilst on leave. In addition, the administrative paperwork required by the relevant government department can make it difficult for some potential applicants to avail of itin a timely and efficient manner.

Flexible working arrangements can often be more helpful to carers than leave provisions. In practice, they are more commonly availed of; for many carers, caring is a long-term situation and not a temporary one. Experience suggests that part-time working and compressed working weeks can be especially useful. In addition, flexitime can support working carers in some of their caring roles, such as accompanying an ill parent to hospital appointments.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

HP’s experiences in supporting working carers show that employers can provide good supports. A good level of awareness of the caring issue is required, along with receptivity to providing the types of flexibility that are helpful for carers.


Case study authors:

  • Kevin Cullen, WRC;
  • Sarah Delaney, WRC;
  • Ciaran Dolphin, WRC.

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