Having a child irrevocably changes your life. I don’t have any of my own, but you don’t need to be a parent to know that having a child is a huge time commitment, especially for the first year.
Yet for the employees of millions of companies across the US, a parent could have a child on Friday and be expected to report to work at 9 a.m. on Monday.
Currently, only 41 percent of employers offer paid family leave, meaning three out of every five US companies are either forcing their employees to use their PTO or sick leave, quit, or immediately resume working after childbirth. For a new parent, none of those options are acceptable.
On the federal level, progress has stalled as lawmakers struggle with the funding and logistics of universal parental leave. A handful of states, including California, New Jersey, Washington, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts, have enacted policies at the state level, but this is not enough. There is a significant gap between what is on offer and what new parents need, and the business community should lead the charge to close that gap and accommodate new parents however possible.
To clarify, I’m not saying every business is obligated to fund eight weeks of PTO, no questions asked. In my experience, employees want to know what you are able and willing to provide.
When my first expecting employee came to me, she laid out when she was due, her timeline and preferences, and a desire to continue working for me. We worked out what I could afford to do and how much she wanted to work, and then we implemented the plan. She worked more in the months leading up to the birth, building up a balance of PTO, took a few weeks off, and then came back to work part-time, bringing her newborn into the office.
That worked so well it became my permanent approach. Over the years, when employees have had new children, I have allowed them to build up extra comp time, take unpaid time as needed, or switch to more accommodating work schedules, including hourly or remote work. The nature of the software industry makes that possible. Some industries, however, can’t allow remote work. If I worked in a small accounting firm and someone was trying to work hourly for the entirety of tax season, I likely wouldn’t be able to accommodate that employee as well.
Other small organizations can also get creative to ease the burden on expecting or new parents — while keeping the company in the black. Even if you can’t afford to offer everything that larger companies might offer, you’d be surprised how understanding your employees are and how much they’ll appreciate you being as flexible and supportive as you can be. As your company grows and your ability to support family leave increases, you may be able to simplify your offering to a straightforward fully paid leave program.
Why does supporting family leave matter? Other than the evidence that parental leave will boost your employees’ happiness, there are significant benefits to the business as well. Family leave is widely popular: 69 percent of people say new fathers should receive paid leave, and 82 percent say new mothers should receive paid leave. Offering time off to new parents, whether paid or unpaid, shows your commitment to closing the gender pay gap, which family leave policies have been found to improve. It also increases your organization’s reputation as a great place to work with family-friendly benefits.
Finally, offering leave helps HR and management hire competitively. Family leave isn’t just attractive to prospective parents; even workers who don’t plan on having children soon want their employers to do what is right, not just what is easy. If they see their company making a genuine effort to help mothers and fathers, they will be proud to work for you and more likely to stay.
Sure, the costs might be daunting and the hassle of being flexible might seem like it’s not worth it, especially to smaller companies, but family leave makes moral and financial sense in the long run. This is also an opportunity to truly make a difference in a new parent’s life, and I believe we should take it.
Brett Derricott is the founder and CEO of Built for Teams.