Working while parenting was never an easy combination, but the COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how important it is for companies to create flexible, parent-friendly policies — especially if they want to retain women in the workforce. From parental leave to childcare offerings to flexible workplace practices, creating and communicating thoughtful policies is a smart way for companies to support working parents and keep their best talent.
Modern families in a modern workforce
When developing family leave policies, companies need to think beyond outdated, gender-normative standards, (i.e. women shoulder the childcare responsibilities and men work), and biological, nuclear families.
There are many ways to make a family. As of 2020, around 15% of same-sex couples had at least one child under 18 in their household according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau analysis, and same-sex couples were four times as likely to adopt as opposite-sex couples. More than 100,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year.
Many dynamics could inform how a parent or parents raise their children. Some families have paid childcare support; others rely on extended family, like grandparents, to help. While stay-at-home moms have been common for generations, recent data shows that around seven million dads are considered the primary caregivers and about 1.75 million fathers are stay-at-home dads.
American family dynamics have changed, and, with that, family leave policies must evolve, too.
What parents want
Childcare reimbursement and services, fluid office hours, and remote work options can all help parents find the elusive work-life balance. According to Glassdoor employee reviews, some of the most popular workplace perks are generous parental leave policies, childcare subsidies, and flexibility.
Parental leave, not maternity leave
Federal law in the U.S. requires companies to offer 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to mothers, but the law only applies to full-time employees who have been with the company at least a year, and at companies with more than 50 employees. That leaves a lot of parents without paid leave when they welcome a child.
No matter what path to parenthood a person chooses, parents — both mothers and fathers — need time to bond with their children. That’s why “parental leave” is gradually replacing “maternity leave” as a family formation benefit. Any parent, biological or adoptive, can take parental leave.
Some of the biggest companies in the U.S. have been praised for offering generous parental leave policies. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, offers full-time employees four months of paid leave to bond with a new child. Employees can take paid parental leave all at once or intermittently within one year after the birth or placement of the child. Amazon offers up to four weeks pre-partum leave and 10 weeks paid post-partum leave for birth parents, plus six weeks of parental leave for all parents. Netflix is the gold standard of parental leave, however, offering salaried employees up to a full year of paid leave regardless of gender.
While parental leave policies following adoption or birth are wonderful, they only apply once per child. Companies should also support working parents with childcare benefits as their children grow.
Childcare benefits can come in the form of credits for childcare providers or early learning centers, backup childcare, or onsite childcare facilities.
Bank of America opts for the credit approach, reimbursing employees $240 per month per child for qualified child care. Apple, in addition to letting employees set aside pre-tax dollars for dependent care, offers up to 10 days of backup care for employees’ dependents, (both children and elders). If an employee’s child’s school suddenly closes or the nanny falls ill, the company will cover the cost of a backup childcare provider so the employee doesn’t have to miss work or spend more money.
One of the best benefits for parents of young children, however, is onsite childcare. Not only can it cut down on stressful commuting between work and daycare pickup, it can also give parents the option of popping in to see their kids during the workday. Patagonia has been a leader in this area, offering subsidized onsite childcare since 1983 at its Ventura, Calif. headquarters. Former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario noted the company’s turnover rate for parents who have children in the program was 25% less than for the general employee population.
The 9-to-5 job is a relic of the past. First, very few salaried employees only work 40 hours a week. For better or worse, most professionals carry their work home. Second, it’s unnecessary to have every employee in the office for the same eight hours each day. And limiting employees to two weeks of vacation and a handful of sick days? That doesn’t cut it anymore.
Flexibility can take on many different forms. It could mean a hybrid office and work-from-home environment that gives parents the choice to log on remotely on certain days. It could refer to more lenient workday policies that let teams complete their work in segments throughout the day rather than a solid block of time. For example, a parent could answer emails from 6—7 am before school drop-off, work from the office from 9 am—3 pm, and wrap up the workday after the kids go to bed at 8 pm.
Unlimited paid leave is increasingly one of the most popular forms of workplace flexibility, and it’s not just a way to support working parents; it benefits all employees.
For working parents, unlimited leave means less stress when it comes to taking sick days, shuttling kids to various appointments, dealing with snow day school closures, and more. It also demonstrates that a company trusts its employees to use their discretion in determining how to complete their work. As an added perk to the company, it makes accounting easier because there’s no need to track paid time off or pay out unused leave when an employee exits.
The need for change Is now
Around 70% of mothers living with their school-aged children are working parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, 45% of those mothers were no longer working. More than a year into the pandemic, that number has decreased to 35% but remains high.
Generous office family policies aren’t solely a benefit for women, but data shows us that women are disproportionately driven out of the workplace by rigid limitations on leave and high childcare costs. Yes, these policies can be expensive, but most leaders agree they pay for themselves by increasing overall employee retention and satisfaction.
Just as there is no single correct way to create a family, there’s no single solution for companies to support working parents; policies will vary according to the size and value of a business. But both leaders and job seekers can learn a lot about the culture of a company and its potential for success by looking at a business’s benefits reviews on Glassdoor. (You can even search specifically for “Family & Parenting” benefits.)
Lacking support in your current job? You deserve better! Find a company that supports working parents with help from Glassdoor.