Category Archives: parental leave

Sad State of Parental Leave

Tuned into a pretty interesting, if not depressing, Facebook Live session on Wednesday. Seems the at-least-slow progress in paid parental leave we’ve been writing about here on HRE Daily and on our HREOnline website isn’t as promising as some think.

At least that’s according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which released during the session its National Study of Employers — a self-described “comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address the personal and family needs of employees.” (Here’s the press release for those of you who don’t have the time for an entire study right now.)

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, talked during the session about the study’s key findings — namely that, despite reports from well-known companies (such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young — see our own posts linked above) announcing their expansions of paid-parental-leave benefits, the average amount of caregiving and parental leave provided by U.S. employers has not changed significantly since 2012.

Specifically, over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased from 46 percent to 58 percent. But the study also found that, among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline, from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016.

In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6 percent offer full pay. In addition, daily flexibility, the kind needed for emergencies, has gone down actually, from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016, a statistic Galinsky called “critical.” She added:

“The fact that that kind of flexibility has gone down is a critical [and alarming] finding.”

According to Galinsky, HR has a major role in turning this around. As she put it during the session:

“Flexibility is now the norm. HR should be thinking this way. It used to be, ‘Should or shouldn’t we provide flexibility?’ Now it’s a given that we should.”

Unfortunately, she said, HR needs to do a better job of telling workers what is offered at their organizations. The study found only 23 percent of companies making a real effort to communicate the programs they have.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Small employers (50 to 99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36 percent versus 17 percent), 2) control over when to take breaks (63 percent versus 47 percent) and 3) time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:

  1. An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40 percent in 2016 versus 33 percent in 2012).
  2. An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81 percent in 2016 versus 73 percent in 2012).
  3. An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28 percent in 2016 versus 21 percent in 2012).
  4. A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81 percent in 2016 versus 87 percent in 2012).

In Galinsky’s words:

“Whether high-profile companies offering paid [parental] leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen. Given our findings that 78 percent of employers reported difficulty in recruiting employees for highly skilled jobs and 38 percent reported difficulty in recruiting for entry-level, hourly jobs, these high-profile companies could be leading the way in the strategic use of leave benefits.”

And, apparently, that’s not happening. Not yet anyway.

Amex Joins Parental-Leave Parade

American Express is the latest to board the parental-leave bandwagon. It is announcing today a significant step up in its 510042321-parents-newbornbenefits, not just to new moms and dads, but to those wishing to be.

The company will be making all of its 21,000 U.S.-based regular full-time and part-time employees (the company has 54,800 employees worldwide) eligible for 20 weeks of paid parental leave beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. In addition, it will be increasing its employee benefits for fertility, surrogacy, adoption and lactation.

Kevin Cox, Amex’s chief human resources officer, calls the step a reflection of the organization’s “continued investment in the overall well-being of our employees and their families.”

The new policy covers women and men welcoming a child through birth, adoption and surrogacy. In addition to the 20 weeks of paid parental leave, birthing mothers will be eligible to receive paid, medically-necessary leave related to the birth of their child, which is generally six to eight additional weeks.

In the words of David Kasiarz, senior vice president of global total rewards and learning at Amex, who I recently reached out to about the reasoning and motivation behind this move:

“In creating our new policy, we took a thoughtful approach. We looked at a variety of published research studies and gathered our employees’ overall thoughts on our current programs. We aimed to be inclusive of the needs of our diverse employee base. Most importantly, we wanted both women and men to feel like they can take the time they need to care for their families and bond with their children.”

He continues:

“Research shows that an increase in paid parental leave has a far-reaching, positive impact on the mental and physical health of employees and their families, as well as women’s career advancement. Better health for our employees and their families is good for them and it’s good for us.”

As mentioned above, “to help ensure employees feel supported from the moment they decide to become parents through their return to work and beyond,” as its release states, Amex is also increasing a variety of existing family benefits. Beginning Jan. 1, U.S.-based employees will be eligible for:

  • Benefits worth up to $35,000 per adoption or surrogacy event (up to a maximum of two events per employee) to help with the cost of surrogacy or adoption;
  • A lifetime maximum of $35,000 for infertility treatment, including advanced reproductive technology procedures, available under the company’s health plans;
  • Free 24-hour access to board-certified lactation consultants; and
  • Free breast-milk shipping while traveling on company business.

Added to all of the above, beginning in January, expectant parents will have access to a parent concierge, who will help employees understand and navigate parental leave and the wide array of parental resources and programs available to them.

Says Kasiarz:

“We have a long history of offering benefits to support [all employees] and continually invest in their overall well-being — it’s our signature cause. We believe these changes to our parental-leave policy are the next steps forward in our journey.”

Amex is certainly not the first to enter the parental-leave fray. A search of this site and our HREOnline.com site features numerous predecessors — “new-economy” companies (such as Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix) and older ones (such as Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs). IKEA announced its expansion just last week.

Both searches also offer insights into the challenges still plaguing new working parents and the growing need for companies to find new and better ways to retain them.

As Kasiarz puts it:

” … parenting has changed — traditional parenting responsibilities have evolved and more LGBTQ families are having children. We feel the new policy strikes the right balance between our employees’ and our business’ needs.”

I anticipate — well, certainly hope — we’ll see more and more employers thinking along these lines.