This month, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer, Tawni Cranz announced that the company is introducing an unlimited parental leave policy that allows new moms and dads to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” said Cranz.
In the days following, other tech companies including Microsoft and Adobe followed suit with announcements of their own expanded parental leave policies. Google already offers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. Facebook gives four months. Twitter, 20 weeks.
It seems this move points to a realization that generous leave policies are beneficial for both employees and the companies they work for.
In highly competitive Silicon Valley, employers are in a constant fight to one-up each other with wages, benefits and on-site amenities. They want to attract the best talent and ensure they don’t lose out to other tech giants. Expanded parental leave is more of the same.
Many employees would savor more flexibility in their work/life balance, especially in the U.S., the only developed country in the world that does not require some kind of paid leave for new parents – in fact, only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to it, according to the Department of Labor.
While other countries take a more holistic approach when it comes to parental leave – in Canada for instance, parents receive a year of government-funded paid leave that they can share between them – it does make sense for a company to foot the bill as they are the ones who benefit once the employee returns.
It’s true – there are a lot of benefits to increasing the number of parents within a company and on a broader level, increasing workplace diversity in general. If the leave offered on paper is taken advantage of in practice companies stand to benefit from the new skills and approaches parents bring with them to the office.
The criticism of these recently-announced and seemingly too good to be true Silicon Valley leave policies is that they only exist in companies where the expectation and corporate attitude is one of “work all the time.” As Slate writer Matthew Yglesias points out, at tech companies, job security is closely tied to performance. This means there is a lot of pressure for employees to stay ahead and continue contributing at work. Ergo, parents might not take advantage of the policy at all if they think it may have a negative impact on their career.
This is one of the reasons “unlimited vacation” policies at places like Virgin Mobile and Netflix do not translate into the company’s employees lounging on the beach year-round. When people are under pressure to perform, it doesn’t matter what the formal policy is if it’s not supported by office culture.
Adobe senior vice president of human resources, Donna Morris, insists at their office, extended leave is more than just a PR stunt.
“One of our beliefs is that when someone goes out on leave, it’s an incredible opportunity for other people to grow their careers,” she said.
Of course, another concern is when companies are footing the bill for parental leave, they may frown upon employees having more than one or two children, although that’s a decision that only belongs to the parents.
Overall, the benefits of expanded parental leave policies outweigh the potential drawbacks. Though company-funded leave may not be a perfect solution, at least it gets the country talking about the importance of parental leave and may encourage a corporate culture where parental roles are more greatly valued. And that benefits all of us.
Ada Slivinski is a Canadian journalist who writes about family and social issues.