The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not require any form of paid family leave benefits at a national level. Yet, research has repeatedly indicated that strong family leave policies benefit employers and employees. “In general, companies with paid leave see less turnover and have happier, more productive employees.” In addition to improved employee retention, paid family leave increases a company’s ability to attract talent.
Despite no federal requirements, some major companies are now offering paid family leave benefits, including tech giants like Microsoft, Adobe, Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify. IKEA appears to be one of the first retailers to do so. Hopefully, companies big and small will follow suit. So, what should a business consider for any paid family leave policy?
Any policy regarding parental leave should be gender neutral, including parents who are male, female, transgender, queer, or non-binary gender. Today’s families include single parents, heterosexual parents, same-sex parents with biological, adoptive and surrogate births. Limiting parental leave to biological births for traditional heterosexual couples ignores a significant portion of the U.S. workforce that contributes to productivity, innovation, and profitability. Furthermore, limiting a policy to only “maternity” forces women into the traditional caregiver role, which is not the case for all families.
The policy should apply to all employees. While senior leadership often has more flexible hours and businesses sometimes perceive their contributions as more valuable, senior leadership also often has the financial means to care for a child when returning to work. Non-management employees, often earning lower- to middle-income salaries, may struggle without paid family leave benefits and may benefit the most from these policies.
The policy should provide adequate time for new parents to bond with a child. A token period of paid time off, let’s say a week or two, may be perceived negatively in the workplace because it doesn’t provide the material need parents have. In addition, a minimal amount of paid leave doesn’t cover what is best for families. Bernard Dreyer, M.D., President of the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), recommends six months of family leave for new parents. Benefits include fostering breastfeeding, reducing the incidence of maternal depression, and encouraging long-term engagement with the child.
Go Beyond Parental Leave
Again, the world is changing. Fewer homes have a stay-at-home adult, and employees are caring not just for new and young children, but also for aging parents or sometimes even an ill partner. Establishing paid family leave that covers additional caring for other family members allows employees to care for loved ones in times of need and then to effectively return to the workplace and continue being a productive, dedicated, contributing employee.
Encourage Use of Family Leave
Employers and senior leadership should actively encourage employees to use paid family leave benefits. A paid family leave policy accomplishes little if employees do not feel supported in exercising the benefit. Both employees and employers feel the stress of an employee’s extended time away. Supporting an employee to take the needed time to care for and bond with a child allows both employer and employee to more easily accommodate the absence.
There are, of course, a multitude of issues to consider when developing any paid leave policy. Not all employers look alike, and not all workplaces benefit from the same design. Through robust discussion, members of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition Gender Diversity & Equity Initiative recommend that employers and employees develop concepts for paid family leave that lead to a more supportive environment for families of all types. A strong family leave policy not only benefits employees but employers, as well. By improving productivity and retaining top talent, an inclusive family leave policy will continue to drive diversity and innovation in the internet infrastructure industry.