Paid Maternity and Paternity Leave: Doug and Jen's Thoughts

maternity leave

By Doug Miller and Jen Piccotti

How does the U.S. compare to the rest of the world regarding paid family leave?

Doug:

What does the U.S. have in common with Papua New Guinea?  According to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization we are the only two countries that don’t guarantee paid leave for new mothers.  We are way behind the rest of the world.  While the Family Medical Leave Act offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, you must work for a company with at least 50 employees, and that you’ve been there for at least a year – so nearly half of U.S. workers don't qualify.  Even if they do qualify, how many American families can afford to go without pay for three months?  According to the Department of Labor, only 12% of U.S. private sector employees work for companies that offer paid family leave.  All of this begs addressing why this such an important issue, the benefits and challenges, and what to do.

Why important, and what are the benefits?

Jen:

As the mother of two girls, I completely understand how important parental leave is. With my first daughter, I owned my own consulting firm and was able to plan out my clients’ projects in such a way to give myself around 10 weeks of time with my new baby. Plus – my husband had a full-time job, so at least we had that income. For my second child, I was working full time and was stressing a little bit about making ends meet while I was on leave. On one hand, I was grateful to be living in California at the time, where California Paid Family Leave provides up to 6 weeks of partial pay, and short term disability can cover up to another 6 weeks of partial compensation. As I was doing my research on what paperwork I had to complete, I contacted my boss to let him know I was gathering my paperwork for my maternity leave. Imagine my shock when he informed me that paperwork I was gathering was unnecessary. He would be paying my full salary for the full 12 weeks. I felt like I had won the lottery! The relief was indescribable!

And yet, at a time when a woman is already facing so much change, uncertainty and stress, most workplaces do very little to alleviate the financial burden a growing family is facing. As a parent of a new baby, having the financial freedom and job security to have up to 12 weeks for nurturing and bonding time is irreplaceable. There’s the mother’s physical healing, the adjustment to a schedule that involves little-to-no sleep, learning the needs and language of this tiny being, and adapting to the rhythm of life as a family unit or a growing family. These are physical, emotional and spiritual changes that only time can manage. As an employer who values its team enough to provide this freedom, the dividends in loyalty and productivity in the long run more than pay for the benefit. In fact, one study found that women who had fewer than 12 weeks of maternity leave and fewer than eight weeks of paid leave were more likely to have more symptoms of depression.

What are the challenges related to offering paid family leave?

Doug:

The biggest issue cited by those against paid family leave is that it presents financial and performance hardships because a company must keep someone on the payroll while someone else does that person’s job for 12 weeks (vs. hiring someone to replace the employee who left due to dissatisfaction).  Of course there is a productivity impact associated with team members having to chip in.  Some say there are also challenges for the employee who took the leave, as they can feel stressed when they come back and have to get up-to-speed.  The flipside are the challenges associated with employee dissatisfaction, disengagement, turnover, and the costs associated with recruiting and hiring new employees as well as the performance impact of a steep learning-curve.

Jen:

There’s also the elephant in the room of, “What if this employee takes the full 12 weeks and then gives their notice?” All of these concerns are valid, but the upside of supporting employees and their “return on life” is a company culture that breeds long-term loyalty and a value on people.  And loyalty creates engagement, and engagement creates greater results.

Where to go from here?

Doug:

Consider these facts: Gallup reports only 18% of U.S. employees are engaged; the multifamily industry is plagued by employee turnover rates that exceed 30%; CFO.com reports employee turnover minimally costs a company 1.5 times their salary.  Do these costs outweigh the impact of employee turnover due to a lack of loyalty, the impact of employee disengagement on performance, or the cost and productivity impact of having to hire a replacement?  Happy employees are engaged with their work.  They reward their employer with loyalty.  They strive to help the company maximize performance.  I think the benefits of offering paid family leave outweigh the challenges.

Jen:

The headline alone in Forbes Magazine, “United States Lags Behind All Other Developed Countries When It Comes to Paid Maternity Leave,” should be embarrassing to all Americans. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness can’t happen in a vacuum. We need each other to achieve, to compete, to celebrate, to excel. But we also need each other to step in and hold down the fort when certain challenges arise. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and that village includes the employers who are wise enough to want to support the health and well-being of not only this generation of talent, but the newly arriving generations as well.

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