Over the past year, I’ve been watching with delight as family leave has become front page news.
From Netflix to Adobe to Etsy, it’s been a pleasure to see a number of big employers roll out new policies to provide moms and dads with more paid time with their new children—and get plenty of press coverage for their efforts. Meanwhile, municipalities and states are also tackling the issue, with both New York and San Francisco recently passing game-changing paid family leave laws.
This is all tremendous news for the employees lucky enough to work for one of these forward-thinking companies or live in places like California, New York, or other leading paid-leave states, such as New Jersey and Rhode Island.
But there’s hope for the rest of us too. These moves have brought unprecedented media attention to the plight of the working parent. And chances are your boss or HR department has noticed. This is the perfect moment to tap into that buzz, helping your employer connect the dots about why leading companies are focuses on increasing parental leave—and why they should do the same.
Here’s how to start a paid leave conversation at your job:
Talking point: “If we talk about family leave, the media will talk about us.”
Do a Google news search on “parental leave” and any of these companies: Twitter (93,400 articles), Amazon (14,700 articles), Coca-Cola (5,210 articles) Ernst & Young (1,420 articles), Anheuser-Busch (2,200 articles), EY (5,210 articles). Any time a company announces a new and improved policy, they dominate the news cycle and build their reputation as an employer that cares about its employees. That kind of branding is good for business, not just with prospective employers, but also with customers.
Explain that now is the time to capitalize on the attention that’s being paid to companies that are progressive on family leave. Which brings me to…
Talking point: “We’re an industry leader in so many ways; we should put a stake in the ground as being the most family-friendly company in our sector.”
Play up the areas in which your company is already the best, then introduce family leave and workplace flexibility as another way to set the company apart.
Not only will an industry-leading policy drive buzz, but it can also be a powerful differentiator when it comes to recruiting outstanding new hires. (The converse is true as well: If a competitor has a more generous leave policy, you could be losing qualified candidates.)
Talking point: “Other companies have run the cost-benefit analysis, and they’ve found great ROI on paid family leave.”
In a 2014 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki shared Google’s findings on paid parental leave. She revealed that when the tech giant extended their policy from 12 to 18 weeks, they saw a 50% increase in employee retention among women who’d had babies.
Every company’s compensation structure is different, but if your company pays out bonuses (either performance bonuses or signing bonuses), think of 12 weeks of paid leave as the equivalent of a retention bonus of 25% of an annual salary. Many recruiting firms charge 40% of the first year salary as their fee (never mind the cost of bringing that new hire up to speed), so 25% is a bargain.
This the place to remind your employer that many companies don’t actually shoulder the full cost of “covering” for an employee. Most don’t backfill 100% of roles impacted by parental leave, and they are often able to use disability insurance to offset an employee’s salary. So while there’s a cost, it’s more likely to be an opportunity cost, rather thank one that can be measured in dollars and cents.
Talking point: “Being family-friendly and offering flexibility will increase employee engagement and productivity.”
When I was doing research for my book, Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood, I interviewed Jennifer Dulski, the President and COO of Change.org. She told me that when the organization increased its policy to 18 weeks of fully paid leave for all parents, it saw what she called “surprise benefits.” Sure, employees were excited and grateful, but their partners were overjoyed as well. “We’re creating so much flexibility for their partners,” she explained. It engendered a sense of loyalty to the company from the whole family.
And flexibility isn’t just about leave: it’s also about how people work when they return. Companies that afford flexible working time have found that employees are more productive at home—one researcher called it the “cake in the breakroom effect.” Employees who work from home have fewer social distractions while working, and they’re more able to focus on getting their job done.
Remember, as in any negotiation, when you’re talking about family leave, you want to stress what’s in it for them. Fortunately, this is one deal that would truly be a win for all involved.
Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring and the author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood. Connect with her at www.herestheplanbook.com or allysondowney.com.