Last November, while celebrating her baby daughter's first month, Ms Christine Loo received an e-mail that announced a big bonus.
It was her employer informing her that it had extended her maternity leave from four months to six months.
"It was a very pleasant surprise," said Ms Loo, 39, an associate vice-president at Prudential, which is among at least seven companies here offering maternity benefits beyond the 16 weeks stipulated by the authorities.
For example, from this month, mothers at Standard Chartered Bank can take 20 weeks off. Tower Transit, which started operations here last May, offers 26 weeks.
Ms Loo went back to work after four months off because she had projects lined up, but the mother of two is now taking Fridays off and will use the remaining leave for her daughter's paediatric visits.
The new benefits enticed former employees to consider returning, she said. "Some of my ex-colleagues who have left the company said they want to come back to Prudential because they are planning to have No. 2 or No. 3."
However, human resource experts do not expect other firms to quickly follow suit given the economic climate.
Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore, said: "With the manpower crunch, it might be challenging for employers to find replacements for those taking their maternity leave."
Women here are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave. But some companies have gone beyond the government- mandated duration. Here are some firms that offer a longer period of maternity leave:
17 weeks' leave:
18 weeks’ leave:
Arnold & Porter
20 weeks’ leave:
Standard Chartered Bank
24 weeks’ leave:
26 weeks’ leave:
Managing director at PrimeStaff Ronald Lee said it could happen later, especially for multinationals, as there is a big advantage in terms of talent acquisition and retention.
"Google reported that the rate at which new mums left fell by 50 per cent when it increased paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 weeks," he said.
Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan pointed out that such policies benefit only companies with "a young workforce aged 40 and below, those who want to form families".
Tower Transit, for example, said it has had only one mother use the maternity leave so far because most of its female workers are older women returning to the workforce.
Prudential, which has 870 staff here, also gave fathers three weeks of paternity leave, more than the two weeks mandated by the Government. Thirty mothers and 25 fathers have taken up the new suite of benefits to date. The company declined to say how much these benefits cost.
It's the intangible benefits that matter, said Ms Sheela Parakkal, chief human resources officer at Prudential. "Our employees being able to spend quality time with their families translates to them being very motivated."
But while such policies are a good initiative, Ms Teo said companies must make sure their staff do not feel penalised when using them.
StanChart CEO Judy Hsu, for one, said she was aware of such a concern and has worked to make sure managers are on the same page.