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Google’s new paid leave and vacation policies signal how the workplace pioneer is adapting to the burnout era

January 31, 2022, 2:16 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Joni Mitchell joins the Spotify boycott, Black female legal professionals weigh in on Biden’s Supreme Court strategy, and Google looks beyond the office freebies. Have a meaningful Monday!

– Rethinking workplace ‘benefits’. Google last week announced that it was sweetening its paid leave and vacation policies. The tech giant increased paid time off for workers who give birth to 24 weeks from 18. All parents will get 18 weeks of parental leave, up from 12. All employees will have access to eight weeks of caregiver leave—double its previous allowance—and receive more vacation time—a minimum of 20 days, up from 15.

“Today we’re announcing increases to our global leave benefits to ensure that parents and caregivers have more time to spend with their families and loved ones, and to encourage all Googlers to take more time for themselves, too,” chief people officer Fiona Cicconi said in a statement to Business Insider. In explaining the change, she said 40% of Google employees belong to the “sandwich generation”—caring for children and aging parents or relatives.

For years now, we’ve documented how the pandemic has squeezed this population of caregivers even further, by shutting out-of-home solutions, like nursing homes and daycare. Even if those centers are open, some families have decided against using them because of heightened COVID risks or have found their services inconsistent, due to staff shortages and COVID outbreaks.

Google’s improved benefits will help address employees’ greater need for family leave, but they may also serve a second purpose: appeasing disenchanted employees.

Google’s 2021 annual staff survey found that employee wellbeing fell as the company shifted to remote work. Compared to past years, a smaller share of employees said they could detach themselves from work during off-hours and complete their work while maintaining their wellbeing.

Almost immediately, Google handed out $500 “wellbeing” cash bonuses and awarded employees extra “wellness” days, but the more generous paid leave and vacation time will likely soothe some workers’ grievances too.

The era of remote work has neutralized many of the tools cushy employers like Google once used to win over employees and potential hires. According to The New York Times, Google is planning an eventual return to an office remade for the post-COVID era, with moveable “team pods,” robotic “balloon walls,” and outdoor tents and teepees where workers can take meetings. But gone are many of the office freebies that cemented Google as a pioneer in workplace perks. Boxed lunches will replace free, lavish buffets, in-office fitness centers and massage rooms will remain closed, and shuttle buses, which carted packs of employees to and from work, are still suspended. What’s more, Google has delayed its return to the office over and over again, most recently putting off a Jan. 10 start date.

Calling the workplace perks of yesteryear “benefits” was always a bit of a misnomer. Sure, free lunches and in-office gyms are convenient money-savers, but they were also aimed at milking as much productivity out of workers as possible. They arguably benefited the employer more than the employee. But now, in the era of burnout and the Great Resignation, thoughtful employers are realizing that one of the workplace “benefits” employees want most is time away from work.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Claire Zillman

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- When the music stops. Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell followed Neil Young in pulling her music from Spotify over the streamer's decision to keep hosting Joe Rogan's podcast, which is known for spouting COVID vaccine misinformation. "Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives," Mitchell wrote in a statement. "I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue." Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, who have a podcasting deal with Spotify, are also voicing "concerns" about the platform's role in misinformation. CNN

- National hero. Queensland native Ashleigh Barty on Saturday beat American Danielle Collins to become the first Australian to win an Australian Open title in 44 years. Barty, known for her poker face, was emotional after the victory. "I think it just kind of all came out at once. It was a really, really special moment," she said. BBC 

- Next gen. South Korea Internet giant Naver has named 40-year-old Choi Soo-yeon, an attorney who headed Naver's overseas operations, as its new CEO as it aims to expand internationally and improve a corporate culture that some say is toxic. Choi replaces Han Seong-sook, No. 30 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women International list. A suicide by an engineer in May rocked the company, and some employees have accused the firm's old-guard managers of bullying and harassment. Nikkei

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Janelle Jones, the first Black woman to serve as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, has left her position after a year in the job. Orange SA has named Christel Heydemann CEO, making her the first woman to lead France's largest phone carrier

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Better believe it. Actress Rosario Dawson talked to Fortune's Rachel King about her decision to invest in EBY, a women’s empowerment and tech apparel brand that just completed a Series A funding round that drew $6 million. "I invest in products that are a natural extension of what women believe in," she says. Fortune

- Crypto star. Think investing in cryptocurrency should be easier? Ophelia Snyder thinks so too. The 29-year-old former documentary filmmaker leads a Switzerland-based firm called 21Shares that offers European investors ETFs based in Bitcoin and more obscure cryptocurrencies. She's now teaming up with Cathy Wood to launch a Bitcoin ETF in the U.S.—if the SEC allows it. Bloomberg

- Bittersweet. As President Joe Biden prepares to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, Black female lawyers and judges in the U.S. are proud the moment has finally arrived but also worry that whoever gets the nod will be tokenized. "People are going to say she only got this because she was a Black woman, and that could not be further from the truth. She would not even be considered if she wasn’t qualified, prepared and ready,” says Alisia Adamson Profit, a lawyer in Florida. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

After 600 years, Swiss city at last has a woman on night watch New York Times

Black female entrepreneurs are starting a hair revolution Financial Times

What does ‘a desk for working parents’ mean? New York Times

PARTING WORDS

"I knew I needed to get a job right out of school. I didn’t even know what an executive was.’’

-Ulta executive chair Mary Dillon on why she majored in business. She talked to the Wall Street Journal about her career and her personal board of advisors. 

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