Do you ever wish you lived somewhere else? There's no big announcement here, but lately I've been thinking a lot about parental leave. Quite frankly, in this country, in most companies, it's a total disaster. Anecdotally, I've heard everything from 2 weeks — which hardly seems like time enough for the mother to heal, much less bond with her new child, get the family on a routine, master feedings, organize childcare, I could go on and on — to 3 months, which sounds like a goldmine next to 2 weeks, but actually? It ain't much. Consider, if you will, the example of Sweden. Parents get 13 months, 2 of which are exclusively reserved for the father. Read that again. 13 months. And, according to the New York Times, that "could well double after the September election."
It sounds heavenly, even at the current rate. But this is about so much more than valuing families. The ramifications for Swedish society are massive, evolving and exciting.
Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.
Of course, it hasn't been easy. Parents must figure out how to divvy up the leave — which they can use hourly, daily, weekly and/or monthly until the child's eighth birthday, and divide between themselves however they like. Employers running small businesses have a tricky time with the flexible work schedules, and there are reports of dads being pressured to only take the minimum 2 months. But companies are learning to use it to their advantage:
"Graduates used to look for big paychecks. Now they want work-life balance," said Goran Henriksson, head of human resources at the cellphone giant Ericsson in Sweden, where last year 28 percent of female employees took leave, and 24 percent of male staff did. "We have to adapt."
I wonder how one searches for job openings in Sweden...