I'm Looking at the Man in the Mirror


If you want to make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make the change.”

-- Michael Jackson, Man In the Mirror

Part One: Why Paid Family Leave Matters

Our busy season is now. As the companies we evaluate close out their year we get to work tallying their progress toward meaningful impact in their communities. We have a company holiday the week at the end of December where everyone takes time off. It’s not just because our clients are also taking time off but because we know what January has in store for us. It’s a lot. And we want our staff rested.

Put plainly our philosophy on time off is this: Take the time you need for the life you need. Be a good team member and we’ll have your back.

As a small company that’s not always easy. There aren’t a lot of people with overlapping skill sets and it’s hard when someone is gone to fill their shoes. And we are careful to make sure that we are aligned in our mission and values so that everyone understands what it means to be a team player.

Unfortunately, we are at one end of the time off spectrum. At the other end are most employers and their workers, where little or no paid leave is the norm.

Paid leave is not nationally regulated so it’s been up to states to require it. The Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA is unpaid leave. It protects employees from being fired for up to 12 weeks of leave. However without income many low wage employees can’t take the time away.

California was first to pave the way for Paid Family Leave and we now have a nearly 15-year run at proving its effectiveness. As more states and companies get on board with it, we have a lot of studies revealing how effective it is for society as a whole to have a workforce with guaranteed protections for family leave.

However, paid leave is not only good for society it is good for business. According to Boston Consulting Group, businesses who have generous paid leave policies have higher morale, higher retention rates, and experience no discernible difference in output. Generous sick leave also helps sick people stay home, thus preventing the further spread of sickness throughout the community and workforce.

Pandemics aside, those who bear the brunt of unpaid family, bereavement, or sickness leave are poor women. Whole industries rely on their talent (ironically healthcare is paramount among them) and yet fail to support them when they need it most.

I’m here to tell you, if you go woke you won’t go broke. Plenty of firms have done it. The data supports it. Just like many investments into short term profitability, lacking leave is a provable drag on future growth. While you’re pinching pennies today, you’ll be bleeding Benjamins tomorrow.  

I like to think about it this way:

How much more capacity could I build with an engaged and highly supportive workforce? How much better talent could I attract? And finally, how would I want to be treated by an employer?

If you need a why, there it is in plain language. But how is just as important though not quite as simple pithy.

Part Two: Making a Change

If you want to read more about why Paid Leave is important, the New York Times dug into this issue at length in this article. There are a number of studies by corporate researchers as well; notably Boston Consulting, Kaiser, MicKinsey, Harvard and The Upshot at the New York Times. Just know, there’s no real excuse for companies any longer to avoid the following changes. If you’ve made it this far, then you’re wanting to know how. So let’s do this.

In the research there are some practical recommendations for organizations who want to make progress toward a goal of giving their workforce more humane paid leave policy. Here’s what UNICEF recommends for the private sector to do for parental leave. But it’s important that leave not just be related to increased demands on new parents but on all forms of emergency family and medical leave as well. Scholars Strategy Network offers practical measures and best practices here. I’ve summarized them below.

  • Policy should be distributed equitably. Everyone should have access to this benefit, not just parents and not just salaried employees.
  • Amount of leave isn’t the only value driver. Flexibility is also important.
  • Company leaders should set a standard by also taking leave.
  • Support systems should be in place, not just for the person taking leave but employees filling in.
  • A minimum of 14 weeks of maternal leave.
  • Equal, reserved leave time for fathers or same-sex partners.
  • Rights to three months of paid family leave for both parents and childless workers, time that can be taken throughout a child’s or family member’s life for unforeseen circumstances.
  • Leave that is flexible, that can be taken part-time or across several periods. Days should not necessarily have to be consecutive, either.
  • Leave that is job-protected, guaranteeing employees of all backgrounds the right to return to work once leave has ended.
  • A wage replacement rate is set as close to 100 percent of a worker’s average wage as possible.
  • Explore enabling shared contributions from each paycheck to gain eligibility for paid leave.

Finally, if you’re going to measure your progress (and we highly recommend that you do), then here are some basic indicators.

  • Usage
  • Employee replacement costs
  • Retention rates among employees who have taken leave
  • Employee perceptions on quality of work

That’s it. I know it may take time and that’s fine, too. As one of my favorite writers once opined about falling in love: true, meaningful and lasting change comes at first slowly and then all at once.

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