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Netflix Ups the Ante on Parental Leave

Sarah Thomas
8/5/2015
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Netflix has announced a leave policy for new moms and dads that employees everywhere are probably hoping sets a precedent: unlimited parental leave for the first year with no change in pay.

The new policy applies to all Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) employees -- female or male -- in the US and Canada for the first year after their child's birth or adoption. Parents can return part-time, full-time or somewhere in between in an arrangement they work out with their managers.

In announcing the new policy in a blog post, Netflix Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz says it's part of the company's plan to foster a "freedom and responsibility culture" and help its employees balance the needs of their family with their career.

I think she captured why a program like this matters -- both to Netflix's employees and Netflix as a company -- well in her post. She writes:

    Netflix's continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they're not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.


For all the news and views affecting women in the communications industry, visit our dedicated Women in Comms microsite right here on Light Reading.


Parental leave policies like this are rare, especially in the US where there isn't a mandated maternity leave policy and only three months off is standard. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is another company often cited for its generous policies -- it offers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave in addition to seven to 12 weeks of "baby bonding" time that can be taken anytime during the newborn's first year. (See Vodafone: What's Good for Moms Is Good for Business.)

In some parts of Europe, parental leave policies like this are much more common. Elaine Weidman, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility, based in Sweden, recently told us about Sweden's allowance of 18 months of paid parental leave, something she says both women and men commonly take advantage of in the country. (See Mentor Monday: Ericsson's Elaine Weidman.)

She did, however, point out that taking this much time off can also put either parent behind when they come back to work, struggling to get up to speed or, for new moms, often competing with men who have continued their careers without a break.

While I think Netflix's new policy is a great and important move for new parents, I -- cynically perhaps -- wonder how many of its 2,000 employees will actually take advantage of the full year off. And, if they do, will they get looked down on by their managers and co-workers?

Given that the policy is an option, not a mandate, I could see it making things more difficult for new parents who feel they can't actually take advantage of it. Netflix has also long offered unlimited vacation days, and I'd be very curious to hear the stats on how many days off its employees actually tend to take.

Hopefully Netflix's policy is as good in reality as it sounds on paper. Its culture of freedom and responsibility also has to be one of respect and understanding for new moms and dads -- and maybe even a healthy dose of team work and collaboration to make it easier to take time off and jump back in... when they're ready. (See The Collaboration Imperative .)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
8/25/2015 | 11:33:50 AM
Barbara Annis on Netflix
I also asked Barbara Annis, the CEO and founder of the Gender Intelligence Group, what she thought about Netflix's leave policy, and she commended it, but also pointed out -- like we have -- that it depends on how free employees feel to take advantage of it. She says:

 

"I think it's time, and I'm glad Netflix took that stand and now demonstrate that it actually works. You have to be very smart about that -- women can get penalized. Fear of taking it with consequences to their career. It has to be something that not only do they celebrate, but how do they set it up? They set it up in a clever way.

Every time we do these diagnostics, we ask all these questions including on work-life balance. One question we ask is do you feel you can use work-life flexibility tools without consequences to your career? Both men and women scored incredibly low. 

In the culture, it just isn't there. We'll watch Netflix and see how it goes. It's still worth experimenting. Just don't throw it there and leave it, nurture it and make sure it's set up for success."
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
8/25/2015 | 11:27:11 AM
No leave for hourly workers?
Netflix is getting slammed by a women's rights group for not extending its maternity/paternity leave policy to hourly workers. https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157657639324076/with/20230823073/ 

What do you think about leave policies for hourly workers? 
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/7/2015 | 7:48:16 AM
Re: More marketing than anything...
A no-policy rule for vacations is a smart move, in a passive-aggressive kind of way. Vacations are guilt trips for many people -- and we end up with a bagful of unused days that either get burned off at the very end of the year or are forfeited (most companies with policies now have a "use it or lose it" rule for each calendar year). In the US, California is the only state I know of that bans the use it or lose it policy, so people who keep nose to grindstone can amass pretty significant unused vacation time that they can cash in at liberation day.
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 6:57:28 PM
Re: More marketing than anything...
mendyk, a lot of CA startups don't have a vacation policy so that they don't have to deal with the HR regulations of implementing one that abides by the laws. You don't often see startups bragging about it, tho... probably b/c they don't want their hires to think they'll be able to take too much time off.
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 5:18:33 PM
Re: More marketing than anything...
The irony is that most workers remain connected even when they are on vacation, thanks to our collective addiction to smartphones. And you make a very interesting point about how CA labor law might play into this seemingly enlightened policy.
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 5:10:03 PM
Re: Microsoft policy changes
If companies really wanted to support working parents.. perhaps there should be more child care solutions? I vaugely remember that Google started a childcare program that was initially free for employees, but then the costs got out of hand and it was killed off.

 
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 5:06:50 PM
Better benefits are great, don't get me wrong...
Any company that wants to get attention by trying to make things better for employees is welcome to do so... I'm just skeptical of the actual results and impact.

 
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 5:05:19 PM
More marketing than anything...
Working at Netflix isn't as utopia-like as this story makes it sound, I'd guess. How does any employee ask their manager for a year off... without basically getting a demotion? The unlimited time off policy actually comes from the practical effect of CA employment law that says a company that has no vacation policy doesn't have to abide by the regulations that govern vacation policies in CA.... 

I wonder how many employees can get away with this (when so many ppl are taking long vacations):

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-26/netflix-claims-former-executive-took-kickbacks-on-sales
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 4:33:42 PM
Re: Microsoft policy changes
@mendyk exactly so. It's because of the persistence of such attitudes that telecommuting is still regarded as a perk that is most valued by people who are less committed to work. In truth some people do goof off when claiming to be working from a remote location. But there are also plenty of people goofing off in the office. In fact, the social component built into workspaces actually impedes the productivity of some people. For myself, I know I am most productive without people intruding where I'm working-- even when they just mean to be friendly.
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2015 | 4:01:43 PM
Re: Microsoft policy changes
There also is definitely a generational component to this, though some studies are showing that the principle of focusing on parenting tends to get put aside for immediate economic concerns (as you suggest, time off is perceived as lack of commitment). Established norms often die long and hard -- look at the still-strong attitudes about the value of spending untold hours commuting to a common office space, an attitude espoused by the Yahoo! CEO you mentioned.
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