Netflix introduces unlimited maternity and paternity leave...with full pay

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez August 5, 2015
Netflix is offering unlimited maternity and paternity leave for a year, with full pay. This is groundbreaking, given that the USA is the only country in the developed world that doesn't require companies to offer any paid leave after having a child.

The technology industry and Silicon Valley have plenty of faults. But it can't be denied that when it comes to employee benefits, these firms are raising the bar in the United States, offering packages that go well beyond what is required by national law.

For example, online streaming service Netflix has announced that it now offers its employees unlimited maternity and paternity leave, with full pay, for one whole year.

To give an idea of how extraordinary this new benefit will be for some people, in the US it is still not required by federal law to offer staff any paid maternity or paternity leave. It is one of only three countries in the world that doesn't require companies to provide any benefit when it comes to their staff having kids.

In other parts of the world, paid maternity leave is relatively generous. Mexico requires three months. Latvia provides 17 months and Hungary offers 40 months. The UK provides around ten months paid leave (which can be split between the mother or the father) and Canada offers about 13 months.

The crux of it is that the US is seriously lagging in this area. Some states have introduced maternity leave benefits as part of a social security scheme, but it is up to companies to offer some payment. The only national legislation that covers that has been introduced is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires companies with over 50 employees to offer monthers and fathers 12 weeks unpaid leave, with protected employment status.

It is unsurprising that information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013 highlighted that only 12% of employees reported having any paid leave after having a child. Contrast that with the numerous research findings that say paid maternity and paternity leave has positive economic impacts. These are said to be most notably in higher retention rates and productivity.

Moreover, this is why Netflix is breaking new ground. In a blog post, Tawni Cranz, Netflix's Chief Talent Officer, explained that the company wanted to foster a “freedom and responsibility” culture that gives employees the ability to “make their own decisions along with the accompanying responsibility”. She said:

With this in mind, today we’re introducing an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.

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.

It has also recently been revealed that Netflix no longer monitors how much vacation their employees take, where it has said that it would rather focus on outcomes than the number of hours staff put in.

Netflix isn't the only generous tech company. Facebook offers four months of paid leave for both

mothers and fathers, as well as $4,000 for each child that is born or adopted. It also has a solid day care scheme and (controversially) has programmes for egg freezing, surrogacy and sperm donation.

Twitter offers 20 weeks paid maternity leave, and Google has upped its maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks. According to the New York Times, Google found that the result of this was that returning mothers left the company at half the rate they were previously.

While Netflix has received a significant amount of praise for its announcement; there have been a few rumblings online about the realities of an 'unlimited' scheme. For example, Natt Garun over at The Next Web says that the announcement fills her with fear. She commented:

[Upon] hearing the news, I found myself terrified by the idea of unlimited maternity leave. It’s hard enough for a woman to find a high-level, well-paying job. The idea of an extended absence and letting someone else essentially replace me is a scary thought.

What are you supposed to do upon return? Pretend everything is as it was 12 months ago?

Giving your child a healthy upbringing is equally important as work, but it’s a tough balance when work is what you need to provide for your kids. Being allowed to jump to and back from work for extended periods is a neat idea, but I wonder how productive that is in a real life team setting, or with a young family.

Whilst Claire Zillman over at Fortune raises a valid point that the prospect of being faced with 'unlimited' time off may confuse and have adverse effects. She said:

The only problem is that when workers are presented such an open-ended option, they are often left confused. For starters, it’s hard to determine how much time off is appropriate to take. Then of course there’s the fear that taking time off will mean missing out on important meetings and projects—absences that could scuttle opportunities for advancement or promotions.

In an ideal world, new parents would decide how many days to take off in the vacuum of their personal lives, but it’s silly to assume that such a safe space exists; it’s tainted by concerns about missing too many meetings, returning to too many unanswered emails, and it prompts comparisons to other new parents who missed fewer days following their child’s birth. As if new moms and dads didn’t have on their minds, they’re now under pressure to calculate the exact number of days they’ll need to adapt to parenthood and then justify that decision to their employer.

Netflix should be commended for its ample policy. New parents should receive more paid time off than they’re currently getting. But if a company is going to be so generous, it should offer precise guidance to employees.

Both of these are valid points, the latter in particular ringing true. Give people 25 days holiday and they will most likely take their full allocation. Give people unlimited holiday and I do wonder if that would be abused.

Having said that, we've got to remember that Netflix is introducing this policy in a country where there is no legal requirement whatsoever for companies to offer paid maternity or paternity leave, of any kind. It should be commended for taking these steps.

Equally, there is a chance that the more companies that hear that their peers are offering such packages, they might just follow suit. Moreover, that can only be a good thing.

Well done Netflix. We want more of this, please.