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Women In Comms

Netflix Ups the Ante on Parental Leave

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.


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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 8/5/2015 | 11:58:29 AM
good on paper... While I do think this is laudable news, I'm not sure it'll play out as advertised. I would almost rather have a mandated six month leave rather than an optional one-year leave. I can't imagine many people really take them on the offer in the same way that I doubt employees really take "unlimited vacation days" when offered.

What do you think?
mendyk 8/5/2015 | 12:10:04 PM
Re: good on paper... It seems to be a program straight out of The Circle.
Sarah Thomas 8/5/2015 | 12:12:34 PM
Re: good on paper... I've never read it. I spent my 10 vacation days watching Netflix.
mendyk 8/5/2015 | 12:18:29 PM
Re: good on paper... Then wait for the movie -- I'm sure there will be one. And it will probably be better than the book.
SteveLangridge 8/5/2015 | 1:36:22 PM
Look at how this works (and doesn't) in Canada 1 year Parental Leave is a standard Federal Government support program for all Canadians, albeit far from 100% salary.  As a Father (many times over), I agree with the policy as it reinforces a significant focus on active parenting.  As a tax payer (and boy do we Canadian's pay!) it's a challenging topic.  As a husband, I have watched Top 50 Company Management abuse the program and use it as a punative tool to inact their agenda (meeting shrinking bonus/compensation increase budget targets) on Female employees.  Luckily the Canadian Employment Standards are quite clear on why/how this is not permitted (but it still happens).  Onus is on the Company to prove it's not happening, when reported. 

Yes, the parent taking the time off away from the work force does put them behind. That's only natural.  And it only matters if you value the rat race over your family.  The time spent bonding and forming those natural bonds pay dividends far exceeding what any job/position/promotion can deliver.  That said, I was never able to take advantage due to the financial impact to the household.

Over-all pro's and con's it's a distinct investment in the future of a Nation's youth, and those that will take care of us when "we" are no longer able to.

Great to see this happening in the US by a progressive Company.
Sarah Thomas 8/5/2015 | 2:36:17 PM
Re: Look at how this works (and doesn't) in Canada Thanks for your sharing your perspective, Steve. Sounds like a good program, if it's not abused, although that's too bad you couldn't take part in it because of the financial impact. There's still a long way to go if companies can't make it affordable to take advantage of it, at least in part if not for the whole year.
Sarah Thomas 8/5/2015 | 2:38:31 PM
Microsoft policy changes Wow, now Microsoft is announcing new policy changes for maternity and paternity leave, upping leave for both to 12 weeks paid: http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2015/08/05/the-employee-experience-at-microsoft-aligning-benefits-to-our-culture/

I hope this becomes a competition for the best benefits amongst tech companies!
Ariella 8/6/2015 | 1:22:35 PM
Re: Microsoft policy changes While it sounds great, the thing about such policies is that the people hwo want to demonstrate they are very serious about their careers tend not to make use of them. For example, though Yahoo offered employeees 8 weeks of maternity leave, its CEO took less time than that when she had her baby. Certainly, anyone who feel like they want to be on the fast-track and not the Mommy-track feels pressured not to look like they are willing to put their careers on hold for 3 months. That's what I was told about anyone who worked in particulalry male-dominated fields like investment banks.
mendyk 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.
Ariella 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.
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