More employers are rethinking their policies around leave and time off as they look to bolster talent retention strategies.
More than 80% of U.S. employers plan to change their leave policies for staff over the next two years, according to a survey from WTW, a workforce intelligence and benefits company, including responses from over 500 employers. Specifically, they’re looking to alter their policies around caregiver leave, bereavement leave and parental leave.
Several factors are driving employers to rethink their leave policies. The biggest one is to boost talent attraction and retention, that survey found, followed by enhancing the employee experience. That was consistent across employers of all sizes and industries.
Certain states have passed new leave laws recently that employers with staff in those areas must comply with, but for the most part companies today are “really taking a hard look at the programs and looking to make them differentiators,” said Alex Henry, group benefits leader at WTW.
It’s not uncommon for employers to tweak these programs, but the extent to which they plan to is what’s unusual, he said. Over half of respondents said they planned to make moderate or extensive changes, like adding entirely new kinds of leave or boosting the number of days allowed off.
“Things like caregiving policies really indicate who a company is at their core. Even if an employee never has to take them, just knowing that the organization offers it gives them a glimpse into the type of culture that they would be entering and the type of organization that they’re joining. It becomes a true benefit and a great marketing tool,” said Christy Pruitt-Haynes, distinguished faculty for leadership and performance at NeuroLeadership Institute.
“Caregiving is kind of the new frontier,” Henry said. About a quarter of employers report having a paid caregiver leave policy for workers right now, and about the same plan to or are considering offering it within the next two years, the survey found.
If that turns out to be the case, more than half of employers will offer paid caregiver leave, “and that’s something that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction in the past,” he said. It’s a product of the pandemic and remote work which forced employers to really consider how to better support staff with childcare and other caretaking responsibilities that often come up during regular working hours.
Caregiver leave is so new that there isn’t a typical or standard policy employers are following, Pruitt-Haynes said. They might give a specified amount of time off, either paid or unpaid, but ultimately new policies seek to “allow people to step away without fear that they’re going to lose their job or in some way be penalized for leaving,” she said.
The U.S. is one of few countries in the world without any national paid parental leave laws. While the Family and Medical Leave Act allows new parents to get 12 weeks of time off without risk of losing their jobs, it’s unpaid, and many workers aren’t eligible, as they must work for a company with at least 50 employees and have been in their roles for at least 12 months.
That means the amount of time off new parents can get varies greatly depending on their employer. At some companies, like Netflix, new parents can take up to eight months off, paid, following the birth or adoption of a child.
Most employers currently offer some amount of paid parental leave — 86% provide maternity leave, while 82% provide paternity leave and adoption leave, according to WTW’s survey. Within the next two years, about a fifth of those surveyed plan to increase the amount of time off for workers taking parental leave. Allowing new parents to take parental leave regardless of their gender is an ongoing trend.
An emerging area of interest is around post-paternal leave programs, to help new parents transition back into the workplace by allowing them to work reduced schedules in the months after they return. For example, HP offers a parental transition support program allowing new parents to work part-time for up to 36 months after taking parental leave.
Over 90% of employers have bereavement leave policies, and a quarter plan to increase the amount of time off for workers in those situations, the WTW survey found. Employee bereavement leave policies typically give staff just three to five days off, and can be either paid or unpaid when dealing with the loss of a family member, according to HR software firm Paycor.
At Facebook staff can take up to 20 days off paid when dealing with the loss of a family member, and 10 days for extended family members. One key change employers are looking to make is to expand their policies to cover losing an extended family member, and also chosen family and friends, Henry said.