parental leave

We live in a society where more American women than ever are waiting to have children. There are a variety of reasons for this decision, but many women choose to focus on their careers before deciding to have children. Because so many women have established solid careers before starting a family, it has made the conversation surrounding parental leave more prevalent than ever. 

The average length of maternity leave in the U.S. is just over 10 weeks. In Canada, paid maternity leave goes up to 15 weeks and unpaid for up to 35 weeks. The UK has just about everyone beat, as eligible employees can take an entire year off of work for maternity leave. 

It’s obvious that the U.S. falls more than a bit short on parental benefits when you compare it to some of our allied countries. So, it’s important for individual businesses and HR leaders to step up and start having conversations with parents and expectant parents about what they really want and what’s fair. 

It’s understandable to think that giving new parents too much time off could be harmful to your business, but what if it could actually help? 

Let’s take a closer look at why these types of conversations are important, and what your business can do to support parents-to-be on a greater scale. 

Why Adequate Parental Leave Matters

When you offer a fair amount of parental leave, you’re benefitting both your employees and your business. Let’s look at maternity leave, for starters. Simply by offering paid maternity leave and other postnatal benefits to new moms, you’re addressing gender equality in the workplace. Unfortunately, women are often still paid less than their male counterparts and can feel intimidated in the workplace. 

Showing that your business cares about the physical and mental health of a new mother is a great way to encourage equality. Not only will that boost employee retention, but it’s also a benefit that can attract new hires. You’re more likely to get new moms to stay on board if you adopt your own policy and ignore the “standard.” Look at popular companies like Netflix, for example. They take a page from the UK’s book and offer their new mothers up to 52 weeks of leave

Giving new parents (both mothers and fathers) enough time off after having a baby can also keep them from becoming overwhelmed. A good work-life balance is crucial to preventing employee burnout. When you encourage that balance by offering enough parental leave, not only will your employees come back feeling rested and ready to work, but again, it’s another way to make sure they come back at all! 

Maternity Leave vs. Paternity Leave: A Question of Equality

Gender equality in the workplace isn’t equality unless it goes both ways, and while there are many ways in which men still seem to be “favored,” one area of inequality is paternity leave. A 2014 survey conducted by the Department of Labor found that 70% of men took paternity leave for 10 days or less. 

When both parents receive benefits (including financially) after the birth of a child, it helps to reduce gender gap in the workplace. So, is it easy to think men get more “perks” in the workplace than women? Yes, and in many cases, that’s still an unfortunate reality. But, the statistics about paternal leave are staggering, and if your business is going to promote an environment of equality, it needs to include both genders. 

What Your Business Can Do 

So, what can your business do to support both mothers and fathers on parental leave? First of all, take a look at your existing plan, if you have one. If it doesn’t offer any kind of paid paternity leave, that should be the first thing that’s added. It’s just as important for a new father to be a part of their baby’s life as the mother, and both parents need time to support and care for each other during the weeks following birth. 

Next, take a look at how much time off you’re giving to your employees who just had a baby. If you’re not willing to add more days, weeks, or months to your paid leave, be sure to offer some type of flexibility. That could include additional unpaid time off with no repercussions, or an abridged schedule that allows new parents to return on a part-time basis for several weeks. 

You might be looking at the short-term impact of your business when it comes to parental leave. How will it impact your pay schedule? What is considered fair when building a compensation package? While those questions need to be answered on a business-by-business basis, there’s a better question you should be asking yourself: How will offering flexibility to new parents now benefit your business on a long-term basis? Not only will your employees be less stressed, but they’ll be grateful for a business that shows real care and dedication to a work-life balance. 

Again, benefits like this are what keep employees loyal to a business, and they’re also great incentives for hiring new, top talent. So, if you haven’t yet considered adopting a better parental leave plan, it could be time to talk to your employees about what they would like to see and consider how your business might benefit from making some modern-day changes. 

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