Paid Family Leave Tops Job Seekers’ Perk List

On the list of the most in-demand employee benefits, paid family leave might just rank at the top.

According to a 2019 survey by employee benefits insurance company Unum Group, paid family leave is the perk that most job seekers want. Fifty-eight percent of respondents expressed a desire for this benefit, putting it ahead of flexible/remote work benefits (55 percent), professional development opportunities (39 percent), and even student loan repayment (35 percent).

Traverse City employers are getting creative with their family-focused benefits. Effective January 1 this year, Hagerty doubled its paid maternity leave policy from six weeks to 12 weeks for new moms. Two years ago, the company started offering 80 hours of paid leave for spouses of new moms and a phased return-to-work program.

The latter program gives new mothers a six-week workload ramp-up once their maternity leave concludes but still pays out their full salary.

Overbeek

“Weeks one and two they’d work 24 hours,” said Gretchen Overbeek, Hagerty’s vice president of human resources. “Weeks three and four they would work 32 hours. Weeks five and six they would work 36 hours. So, it’s just an incremental way to phase back into work.”

In addition, Hagerty offers educational and wellness programs for new moms and dads, ranging from prenatal yoga courses to seminars on breastfeeding. Overbeek says that Hagerty listens to employees and their current wants and needs to source topics for these programs, which are largely offered on-site during the workday, in partnership with local specialists. New moms can also take part in a “new mom mentorship program,” where Hagerty teams them up with other moms at the company for advice, moral support, and friendship. Finally, Hagerty offers flexible spending daycare accounts, where new parents can put aside money pre-tax to pay for daycare expenses.

Kilbourn

Britten Inc. has a slightly different approach, but has also ramped up its focus on benefits for new parents in recent years. According to Melissa Kilbourn, Britten’s chief marketing officer and head of HR, Britten’s old policy was to offer new mothers four weeks of paid maternity leave, as long as they had been at the company for at least a year. In 2016, Britten updated that policy, shortening the eligibility period to 60 days of employment and offering four weeks of paid leave to new fathers as well. New mothers can also apply for short-term disability coverage through Britten, which covers a portion of their salary for 12 weeks.

Britten is now working on establishing a daycare program that employees could count on for their kids. Kilbourn says the process has “proven more difficult than expected” in part because it would involve finding a local partner that could offer daycare in close proximity to Britten’s campus on Cass Road. Britten does not have the facilities on-site to host the program.

“We are put in a position where we need to act when there are gaps in the community,” Kilbourn said. “Right now, the community has a serious daycare problem. If we have somebody who has a new child, they might be on a waiting list for a year. They can’t find daycare. That backs them into a corner to figure out how they can transition back to work.”

To enable new parents to continue working after the birth of a child, Britten has adopted a policy of flexibility. Managers work with new parents to put together schedules that make transitioning back to work easier – whether that’s a phased return-to-work arrangement like Hagerty’s or the option to work from home a few days a week.

Inspired by a policy at neighboring business TentCraft, the company implemented an infant at work program, which allows most new parents to bring their newborns to the office until they are eight months old or starting to crawl. Managers sit down with new parents to go over gaps in daycare coverage and to create schedules for children coming to work. The process also involves identifying “alternate care providers,” or coworkers at Britten whom a parent trusts to care for their child if they have to go into a meeting.

Representatives at both Hagerty and Britten, which boast young workforces and have seen many employees start families in recent years, say these types of benefits and policies are crucial for attracting, hiring, and retaining exemplary talent.

“It’s important to make new parents feel comfortable,” Overbeek said. “The way we approach all our benefits is by making them employee-driven and truly focused on our demographic. We have a young demographic at Hagerty right now. We have a lot of young families. So that’s where we really know that we need to focus our efforts and energy.”

Family Leave Benefits Growing … Albeit Slowly

Despite its popularity, paid family leave is anything but standard. The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that only 17 percent of workers in the United States “have access to paid family leave through their employers.” That number increases to 40 percent with employer-provided short-term disability insurance, which can be utilized for personal medical leave related to pregnancy.

Recently, there have been legislative campaigns to bring paid family leave options to a larger percentage of the American workforce. California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island have state family and medical leave benefits programs. In California, new parents can apply for Paid Family Leave (PFL) through the state’s Employment Development Department. The PFL program allows for up to six weeks of paid leave for employees who need to take time off work to care for an ill family member or “to bond with a new child entering the family through birth, adoption, or foster care placement.” Taxpayers pay into the benefit program, and accepted applicants receive income replacement for 60 to 70 percent of what they earn.

At this time, Michigan has no such benefit program in place, nor does the state require employers to provide paid maternity or paternity leave to full-time employees.

There has also been a recent push to establish a paid family leave benefit program at the federal level. In his February State of the Union address, President Donald Trump proclaimed that he would be “the first president to include in [his] budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave.” However, the president did not go into detail about what his plan would look like, and no new developments have emerged since.

Democrats and Republicans have both shown interest in establishing a federal paid family leave program, but are at odds about how to do so. Democrats want a taxpayer-supported program; Republicans prefer “budget-neutral” approaches, such as a program that would allow new parents to tap into their Social Security early to pay for leave. In April, senators Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) teamed up to mount a bipartisan effort for federal family leave – a first in Senate history. Recently, Cassidy said that the plan he and Sinema have put together would be unveiled soon.

As legislators try to determine a strategy for making family leave more widely available, employers are still doing the heavy lifting. Given the current low unemployment rate and the competition it has created among employers for top talent, paid maternity and paternity leave policies – along with other benefits for new or expecting parents – have become a popular way for businesses to attract and retain employees.

Big-tech companies are harnessing the popularity of paid family leave to draw candidates. At Amazon, all expectant mothers receive four weeks of paid leave to prepare for a birth, as well as 10 additional weeks of paid maternity leave postpartum. For employees who have been with the company for more than a year, Amazon tacks on an additional six weeks of leave. Microsoft offers 20 weeks of paid leave to all birth mothers, and 12 weeks of leave to other new parents. And Spotify gives new moms and dads six months of paid leave, as well as the freedom to take that time over the course of three years.

In addition, many employers offer adoption assistance programs to help families cover the costs of adoption. Microsoft will pay for up to three fertility treatments or foot the bill for female employees who wish to freeze their eggs. Outreach, a sales automation startup based in Seattle, will pay for parents to have a night nurse Monday through Friday for the first eight weeks after a pregnancy, and will even cover the cost of dinner delivery two nights a week for the same two-month period.

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