Updated: Dec 7, 2019
One of the most pressing issues for working parents is paid parental leave. And for companies that want to retain these employees, it needs to be for them too.
Companies are expanding their leave policies, adding weeks and more to the time working parents - mothers and fathers alike - are provided to care for their newborns, newly-adopted children, and for themselves. Other companies are adding this benefit to their existing offerings. And others are considering doing the same.
Paid parental leave addresses so many issues from both sides of the equation -- the human side of work/life including the importance of parent/child bonding, for example, and the business side including understanding that this benefit ties directly to retention.
Still, from ongoing conversations with and hearing from working parents on a regular basis, we have more to do.
Paid parental leave needs to be flexible, meaning parents need the ability to take it when it's needed vs. when companies believe it is. And parents need the ability to take it in increments - e.g. if three months are provided and they choose to initially take 8 weeks, the remainder needs to be available to them as situations warrant. Let's be honest...parenting becomes far more difficult as children grow older.
Paid parental leave must be genuinely supported vs. being policies on paper. Many of the working mothers I speak with say that while their companies profess to being "family-friendly," the realities are otherwise and barriers - some hidden and some overt - exist.
While working mothers often, but not always, receive more support and encouragement to take parental leave, working fathers remain reluctant to do so. Criticism about their commitment to their jobs and a continuing old-school mentality about men being active participants in the lives of their children remain. It comes down to actual utilization.
Paid parental leave goes hand-in-hand with bias that exists - pregnancy and caregiver to name two. There is also blowback from managers and peers when leave is requested, about to begin, and when working mothers and fathers return to work (if they're able or choose to do so). What new mothers and fathers encounter works to undermine the entire purpose of parental leave and being a family-friendly workplace.
And finally (although not an exhaustive list of truths), paid parental leave often means there are additional issues requiring attention, from childcare concerns and costs to recognizing that flexible work options remain key to retaining working parents. These issues are often the toughest, yet are those calling for attention.
No question that progress has been made and many working parents would agree, yet for all those saying wonderful things about their companies and policies, there are just as many saying...not so fast.
What do you think? Has progress been made in your company? If you've taken paid parental leave, did you experience bias? Are flexible work options after becoming a parent available to you? Please share your thoughts.