I just returned from parental leave following the birth of my second daughter. I was able to do so thanks to the generous support of my company, which offers (as a norm, not a limit) 12 weeks paid leave for employees that have a new baby at home or are experiencing some other life change that requires full-time attention. This is in addition to unlimited sick and vacation time, and as a remote-first company, we all enjoy unlimited work-from-home privileges.
The case for paid family leave
It has been well-documented that the US is the only country among its peers that has no nationally guaranteed paid family leave. Of course some family leave policies in the US are extremely generous, though typically only for large companies or already well-compensated employees. Even when family leave (paid or unpaid) is available, it’s not always used.
The benefits of paid leave to families are fairly obvious (a short list includes: more financial security, improved health and development outcomes, reduced gender pay gap), and made more obvious by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Equally obvious are the costs to employers and the potential for disruption when a key team member suddenly disappears, especially in a small organization. Morally, we believe that the intangible social benefits outweigh the costs at any scale — whether within an organization, at the state-level, nationally, or globally. Even so, employers that offer paid family leave realize tremendous benefits in the form of better employee morale and staff retention.
It might be tempting to consider high employee morale a "nice to have," but it permeates everything that an organization does. As a personal anecdote, I elected to take my leave in two chunks — the first immediately following my daughter's birth, the second a few months later. After the first few weeks off, I returned to work as soon as I was achieving functional levels of sleep each night. I quickly realized that I wasn’t giving the job or my colleagues my best. I may have been able to work, but pulling myself away from my child each morning was taxing. After the second break, I could tell immediately that my attitude and contribution to the team was much improved. I don’t regret the decision to take my leave in two parts, but for the sake of my company’s morale and effectiveness, I deeply appreciated (and needed) the extra time.
Paid family leave at DevResults
When my colleagues and I sat down to write our family leave policy, we weren’t sure where to start. We recruit about half of our employees from public- and nonprofit-sector backgrounds where little to no paid family leave is offered, but the other half (our engineers) come largely from the private sector where generous family leave is the norm. In the end, we chose a middle path, one that balanced our commitment to our clients, to our teammates, and to our families.
We crafted our policy with an eye toward three forthcoming paid leave benefits:
- The DC Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (UPLA) offers DC-based employees 8 weeks paid leave for the birth of a child, 6 weeks paid leave to care for an ailing loved one, and 2 weeks paid leave to care for one’s own serious health condition.
- The forthcoming Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) will offer (most) federal employees 12 weeks paid leave for parents that give birth, adopt, or foster a child, though it has not taken effect yet, nor will the details of the policy be clear until it goes through the regulatory process.
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which guarantees employees (and incentivizes employers to provide) paid leave for Covid-19-related quarantine, illness, care taking, and childcare.
As a company striving to be more family friendly, we cheer these advancements, and hope that other organizations in our sector will join us and others in offering generous family leave.
Putting policy into practice
But having a generous leave policy isn’t enough. We have worked hard over the years to go further in supporting employees. We do everything we can to make sure no important knowledge or expertise resides solely in one person. We trade responsibilities, document workflows, and share task lists. Compared to our early days, this seems like a luxury, but it’s also vitally necessary to give people the freedom to disappear at a moment’s notice to care for a family member, spend time with a new baby, or just take a nap when they don’t feel well. It isn’t always easy — especially when you’re a team of 9 — but we make it work through a combination of volunteering, turn-taking, and looking out for one another.
I’m proud and grateful to work for a team that not only gives me time off, but also has my back when I take time off, so that I don’t have to look over my shoulder or down at my phone when I’m away. My little one doesn’t realize it yet, but she’s grateful too!