- While some companies have made strides to improve parental leave offerings in recent years, some employees still feel hesitant to take their full allowed leave, a recent survey from HR software company Remote found. Fifteen percent of workers said they did not take all of their available parental leave, with 10% of women and 7% of men taking less than half their leave allotment. Younger people and LGBTQ people showed greater hesitation to take their full leave.
- Perceived stigma and employer pressure seems to play a role; 1 in 5 employers said they expect employees to return to work before the end of their parental leave.
- Pressure to return to work before the end of leave varied by industry. Those in legal professions were most likely to return to work early, with 21% failing to take their full leave, while those in arts and culture and sales, media and marketing were most likely to take all available leave.
Over the past few years, companies — particularly in the U.S., which lacks mandated paid parental leave — have moved to offer workers longer and more inclusive parental leave benefits. Tech firms have led the way, with Pinterest and Google offering half a year or more for birthing parents and up to 20 weeks for nonbirthing parents, as well as (in the case of Pinterest) a paid extension for parents with babies in the NICU.
But better parental benefits haven’t been reserved for just high-salaried employees in tech. Recently, Tyson Foods announced it would roll out paid parental leave for all employees, including eight weeks for birthing parents and two weeks for nonbirthing parents. Chipotle in 2020 expanded its parental leave to 12 weeks for birthing parents and four weeks for nonbirthing parents. The movement appears indicative of a general trend in the U.S.
As the Remote study found, however, simply offering the benefit is not always enough. To retain new parents and encourage full use of benefits, workplace culture needs to reinforce the expectation that employees be able to balance their lives as parents with their work, experts have told HR Dive. That can include executives leading by example by taking their full parental leave, the embrace of flexible hours and investment in subsidized or on-site childcare.
The setting of a companywide expectation is particularly important in that employees can be interpreting signals — or even experiencing discrimination — from those in managerial roles. For example, 10% of respondents to a U.K. survey released last March said they felt management restricted their career progression after they took parental leave, and 1 in 6 said managers reduced their career opportunities after they expressed plans to take parental leave.
For nonbirthing and nontraditional parents, the stigma may be greater. Paternity leave briefly flared up as a culture war issue in late 2021, for example, after conservative pundit Matt Walsh criticized Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s leave after adopting twins. Entrepreneur Joe Lonsdale tweeted just days later that any man in an important role who takes six months of leave after having a newborn is a “loser.”
But parental leave is about more than physical recovery, experts have said. It can help a family establish new routines, intentionally delegate roles and responsibilities, and help set a foundation that is crucial for returning to work refreshed — which is a boon for companies looking to retain workers.