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What We Can Learn from Netflix's Unlimited Parental Leave Policy

Patrick Ball on August 05, 2015 02:22 PM

Netflix sufficiently disrupted the home entertainment industry, and now the innovative tech company continues its disruption of HR with yet another eye-popping parental leave policy.

Already famous for its iconic culture deck and approach to talent management, Netflix has introduced a new policy offering unlimited maternity leave and paternity leave policy for new parents, allowing them to take off as much time as they want or need during the first year of a child’s birth or adoption.

Writing on its US and Canada blog, Netflix Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz explains the unlimited paid parental leave policy is an initiative meant to help employees balance the needs of their families without worrying about work or finances, while offering the company a competitive advantage.

“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in the field,” writes Cranz. “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home.”

Not every company is going to be willing or able to implement a policy as radical as Netflix’s plan for unlimited parental leave. But there are important things any organization can learn about what Netflix is doing to support working parents and why.  

What Companies Can Learn from Netflix 

  1. Working Parents Need Support
    The transition to parenthood a major life adjustment for any family. With the bundle of joy comes a bundle of stress and responsibility. It takes a tremendous commitment of time, focus and effort just to even begin to find a new routine of caregiving, feeding, changing diapers and even sleeping. For working parents, the responsibilities at home are layered on top of ongoing responsibilities at work. At a time when the US has no federal parental leave policy, less than half of new moms return to their jobs within three months of giving birth, and Millennial women are anticipating career disruptions when they start families, employer-provided support in the transition to parenthood can make a world of difference for working parents.
  2. Employers Need to Support Them 
    As Netflix’s Cranz correctly notes, employees perform better at work when they’re focused on the task at hand rather than worrying about what’s going on at home. And, for their employers, providing support during this critical transition period can prevent the type of presenteeism – when you’re physically at work but your mind is elsewhere – that causes productivity to slip. Not only does supporting new parents impact productivity, but these programs are a vital tool in terms of attracting and retaining top talent. And not just female talent. A survey by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found an overwhelming number of working dads said access to paid paternity leave would be an important factor in choosing an employer. Many employers, especially in highly competitive industries like tech and higher ed, have found that offering work-life benefits such as paid parental leave is a must if they want to remain competitive. 

  3. Flexibility and Responsibility
    In the long run, what may prove the most influential, even most valuable, aspect of Netflix’s new policy is not that it’s “unlimited” parental leave, but rather the way flexibility and responsibility influence a working parents individual experience with maternity leave or paternity leave. “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” Cranz wrote. “Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.”

    This meets a growing desire among new parents – and dads especially – to be able to have some control over when they take their leave, while also putting some checks and balances in place. According to the blog post, new parents can ease back into work with part-time or flexible schedules as they adjust to parenthood. Of equal importance, though, is the impetus on the employee to work with his or her manager to work out coverage. This component, ideally, should create a system that ties flexibility to responsibility and results that prevents employees from abusing the unlimited leave program.

More Than Maternity Leave

Parental leave is a hugely important component of supporting new moms and dads in their transition to being working parents. But it’s not the only program companies can offer. 

  1. Flexibility After Leave 
    Allowing employees flexibility over start and quitting times or a couple of work from home days a week can be effective ways to support new parents in their transition back to work after leave. As one example of this type of policy, the telecom company Vodafone got a lot of attention earlier this year for its policy of paying new moms their full salary to work 30-hour weeks for the first six months upon their return from leave. 

  2. Family Care Benefits
    Another popular employee benefits among working parents is access to child care. Some companies provide on-site facilities, but another option is equipping employees with the resources to find flexible care solutions that work they way the modern families do. For example, Workplace Solutions offers companies a way to connect their employees with long-term and emergency backup care solutions. 

    Learn More About Workplace Solutions

  3. Employee Resource Groups
    New parent support groups aren't just a moms' club anymore. More and more companies are seeing dads join these type of employee-run resource groups, where working parents can swap success stories and humorous parenting fails over lunch or a cup of coffee. When new parents are able to find mentors and allies, navigating work-life balance as a new parent feels less lonely and stressful. 

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