Parental Leave Policy: A Low-Hanging Fruit to Retaining Top Talent

think about parental leave before your employees become parents. 

5 min read

people-2592306.jpg

Startups are cut-throat.  If you’ve ever worked for one, you know that it’s run by visionary leaders who bet everything on their dedicated employees to survive. They work long hours, take bold risks and prioritize their investors. 

From battling funding rounds, growth hacking, customer retention and talent acquisition; it's natural to assume that parental leave is the least of founders’ problems. And that's exactly where leaders often unknowingly deny the company a chance to truly succeed. 

According to San Francisco startup PaperG, only a quarter of start-ups surveyed in 2014 offered paid leave to parents, albeit offering glorifying benefits like catered lunches, gym memberships and unlimited vacations. In addition to this, they interviewed 101 women working in tech, and found 61% of women express that they wouldn’t work for a startup or a tech company without a maternity leave policy included in the benefits package. 

As a leader you need to be thinking about building a thriving company, not reshuffling budget to hire a replacement when an employee leaves temporarily due to their (or their spouse’s) pregnancy. It's understandable that parental leave is not beneficial from a productivity nor financial standpoint for a startup; but turning a blind eye to it and pretending that a paid parental leave policy is too expensive and complicated to draw up is a fallacy. 

When the Center for Economic and Policy Research studied the effects of implementing a parental leave policy on California business owners, it found majority of them did not experience a decrease in performance or profitability. On the contrary, 89% observed a positive or neutral outcome. Go figure!

The research findings shift in favour of companies that prioritize family benefits when advertising roles, which helps them gain a competitive edge. 

Benefits of maternity and paternity leave policies go beyond the four walls of an office space. They help in:

  • Keeping employees healthy and happy. Paternity leave is an signal that you as a company believe in your employees and encourage equal attention to their personal space. It also ensures parents aren’t overworked and over-stressed while balancing work and a new family.
  • Increasing productivity.  Happy parents reinforce a happy workplace. Your employees will value you providing better care and giving them an opportunity to create a wholesome bond with their newborns. 
  • Lowering turnover rates. Paternity leave is not simply an investment, it's a commitment. Employees with or without children appreciate the fact that their employer is thinking long-term, and it will in turn enable you to have a higher shot at retaining them. 
  • Better talent acquisition and retention. Textio CEO and co-founder, Kieran Snyder, talked with 716 women on leaving the tech industry. She found that  over two-thirds cited motherhood as the main reason for leaving. Hiring initiatives only work when employees feel valued as a human being.  A simple solution is to create a return-to-work scheme. 

So you may be thinking: start-ups can’t afford unpaid (let alone paid) parental leave.  This thinking is certainly valid but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely correct

The value of talent is immeasurable, particularly in start-ups.  If you as a hiring manager want to become honey to a highly talented and unwavering swarm of diverse professionals, family benefits have to play a central role in your offering. A well-defined parental leave policy that places employee mental health and well-being on equal footing as financial results and success will set your organization apart from the rest and enable you to attract high-caliber talent naturally.   

Of course, not every startup can afford a 52-week paid parental leave like Netflix, or Amazon (they offer 20 weeks).  You can however create a flexible, supportive and open workplace that promotes family values.  Startups like Enplug, Hubstaff, Cyberclick and Be Found Online have implemented parental leave policies that continue to work for their businesses.

So, if you're reading this and thinking about what changes you can make today, read on. 

This is a step-by-step guide for startups to draft and adopt a paternal policy aligned with business goals and employee retention.

  • Examine government laws. Understand the national and state laws surrounding parental leave. Developed countries mandate paid (or partially-paid) maternity and paternity leave. Use the respective guidelines as a base to build your policy, but remember that providing only the bare minimum will do little to set you apart from your competitors.  Fun fact: The U.S. are only one of the two countries that don't have federally mandated paid maternity leave. 
  • Seek adviceThe aftermath of employees going on leave is felt company-wide. It makes sense therefore to consult all areas of the business that may be affected by an employee leaving, and map out productive pathways to sustain operational, technical and strategic functions in the absence of an employee.
  • Plan ahead. Communicate and provide forms and certificates that the soon-to-be parents are required to complete and set a deadline for their submission so you get adequate notice. 
  • Be Prepared. Managers are the key to holding your business together. They’re crucial and thus need to be trained to manage parents on leave and the responsibilities that come with losing an employee temporarily, without compromising the rest of the organisation's performance. 
  • Last but not least, be flexible with employees coming back to work and the hours expected of new parents. It will help them to transition back into work, and allow them greater opportunity to balance their work and family. It will also allow you to retain employees and save the costs of recruiting and training a replacement. 

These steps offer basic guidelines that you can follow to formulate a parental leave policy which will speak to your employees on a personal and professional level. An inclusive work culture leads to better business results and brand positioning. Additionally, as SheCanCode cofounder, Nicole Pretorius states: 

you can't be diverse, without being inclusive. 

Whether it’s paid, unpaid, partially-paid or telecommuting; every model of a parental leave policy is a parental leave policy, and it will open a window for companies to better attract, hire, develop and retain their talent. 

No one said it would be easy to implement a parental leave policy that resonates with your employees, but by opening the dialogue, asking them what will work for them and creating a support system for soon-to-be parents (before they even know they may soon be parents) will remove ambiguity, and make your organization a highly desirable place to work. 

If you're a soon-to-be-parent in an organisation that doesn't offer parental leave, feel free to share this article with them and ask them how they can afford to bet their success on you and not provide you with a parental leave policy. 


#SheCanCode

Follow Sphoorti: LinkedIn 

Follow Sphoorti: LinkedIn 

Sphoorti Bhandare is a PR consultant with a heart of a digital nomad. Sphoorti studied Electronics (B.Tech.) and pursued Masters in Public Relations in New York. A Bollywood dancer by nature, Sphoorti keeps busy by finding new PR trends, learning about social media tools and planning her next travel destination. She's usually found mastering Zumba, making whipped coffee and hopping from one country to another.