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Are U.S. Business Leaders Ready for Paid Paternity Leave?

The U.S. ranks last in paid parental leave, but some companies are stepping up to change that.

Mark Zuckerberg broke gender barriers last year when he announced he was taking a two-month paternity leave to spend time with his wife and new baby. Although Zuckerberg’s plan may have raised some eyebrows, Facebook’s paternity leave policy is in sync with several other tech giants shining a light on a benefit that many American workers in all size companies have done without.

Adobe now has a 26 weeks paid leave for birth mothers. EY offers 30 weeks. Both parents at Facebook get equal time off and Apple employees get four weeks before the birth and another 16 weeks after. And Netflix has outdistanced them all with a policy that lets both parents take off as much time as they want during their baby’s first year.  

“Among advanced countries, only the U.S. offers no federally mandated paid paternity leave.”

Paid paternity leave even came up several times in a recent Democratic debate, and President Obama even mentioned paid parental leave in his 2016 State of the Union address.

Although studies continue to demonstrate the benefits of paid parental leave, these major companies are unique in corporate America. In fact, a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that among advanced countries, only the U.S. offers no federally mandated paid paternity leave.

The U.S.’ Family and Medical Leave Act entitles employees to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, provided they are full-time salaried employees, have worked at the company at least a year, and the company has more than 50 employees. This leave can be used for personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption, or the foster care placement of a child.

Paid Paternity Leave Can Be a Smart Business Move
In the U.S. business environment, we usually see pushback to mandated benefits and our inherent work ethic often equates taking time off with lack of care or commitment about our job.

In spite of our inherent resistance, however, paid paternity leave can actually be a competitive business move. Recently, The Conference Board calculated that over half of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs and that a bigger paycheck is no longer the silver bullet. The solution? A less controlling, more empathetic leadership that demonstrates the value of the organization to employees by routinely supporting their real life needs.

Although largely driven by competition for talent, a growing number of major corporations are changing the face of paternal leave policies in America by offering innovative, truly beneficial packages.  

A Game Changer for Middle Market Companies
Leaders of midsized company often think there is no way they can offer similar benefits, so why bother? Is it really even necessary? Maybe the individual won’t return from paid leave and that money is out the door. Plus, larger companies can spread the perceived risk of paid time off among a wider number of employees.

The reality is that a midsized company competing for talent with larger global organizations can’t afford not to take care of and invest in its people. Consider it a cost of doing business, like paying rent and keeping the lights on. Generous family benefits can be a huge differentiator that helps you compete for top talent and retain valued, trained employees, while incurring little additional cost.

Synergis, a midsized organization, offers 12 weeks paid maternity leave and six weeks paid leave for other primary caregivers. While it may be difficult to directly tie this policy to its strong profitability and 20% organic growth rate (2x to 3x the rate of the IT staffing industry), parenting and other leave policies influence Synergis’ ability to attract and retain the quality talent to drive success.

Pay Attention to the Day-to-Day Needs of Your Employees
Leaders of all size companies who genuinely want to improve their benefits package can start by listening:

  • Have real dialogs. While benchmarking data is important, the real starting point for making policy decisions is to listen to and observe employees.  
  • Form a Cross-Functional Task Force. Meet regularly to identify ways to improve benefits. Hold no sacred cows and encourage all employees to openly suggest the changes they want to see.
  • Walk the talk. You need to take the provided time off. Company executives should demonstrate to employees that parental leave is a bona fide benefit.
  • Keep your core values visible. Never miss an opportunity to demonstrate how your core beliefs influence your decisions, policies and strategy.
  • Be flexible. Accommodate employee needs to adjust to new family routines (like the start of school) or transition from family leave on a part time basis.

Take Care of Your Employees and Your Business Takes Care of Itself
While there has always been a focus on market share and the bottom line, over the last decade—as we universally move toward a triple bottom line—the tone has begun to change. Leaders are taking the time to understand and support the real-life needs of their employees, earning their loyalty and desire to do the right thing for the business—without reducing profitability. The pay-off? Healthier families, more engaged employees, stronger companies and a better economy.



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