Boosting Family Leave Is Often About Getting Workers To Stay Nestle, Netflix and Microsoft are among several major employers that have announced big increases in family leave benefits this year. The moves are seen as essential as companies compete for talent.

Boosting Family Leave Is Often About Getting Workers To Stay

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It's been a great year for many employees having children. A string of prominent companies has increased the amount of paid family leave. Microsoft did it this year. So did Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, and the United States Navy. So did Netflix, but not for everybody at Netflix, and that is a big part of this story. The rules do not apply to everybody. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: One fact about U.S. workplace policy has galled Ellen Bravo for a very long time.

ELLEN BRAVO: There is no federally required paid leave of any kind.

NOGUCHI: Bravo is executive director of Family Values @ Work, an advocacy coalition. She says the U.S. is the only major developed country offering no such leave. Only 13 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave. That's according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year. But polls show there is increasing political support for it. Congress is considering a mandated paid medical or parental leave paid for out of insurance fund. Three states have already created systems like that, and 18 more are considering them. Bravo says employers are finding good business reasons to extend their leave policies, like wellness, recruitment and retention. But she worries individual managers might undermine them by discouraging their use.

BRAVO: If you want to be promoted here, if you want to be seen by as a committed and devoted employee, you get that leave, but you better not take much of it.

NOGUCHI: Bravo says companies must not only offer paid leave but encourage workers to use it.

BRAVO: You really have to change the culture and change the accountability from managers and how they supervise people.

NOGUCHI: Adobe recently nearly doubled its paid parental leave policy to up to 26 weeks. Chief people officer Donna Morris says it's not just a formality.

DONNA MORRIS: We expect people will take that period of time, and in fact, we want managers to look at it as a growth and development opportunity for others.

NOGUCHI: According to census data, since the 1960s, college-educated workers have seen their paid parental leave increase nearly fivefold, while for high school graduates it has only doubled. Vicki Shabo is vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families. She says today's leave policies have a socioeconomic divide. Netflix's year-long parental leave policy, for example, only applies to its digital division employees, leaving its DVD distribution centers out.

VICKI SHABO: As we saw with Netflix, sometimes companies have one set of policies for their most highly compensated, you know, white-collar workers and then a different set of policies or no policies at all for their hourly workers or lower skilled workers.

NOGUCHI: Bruce Elliott is benefits manager for the Society for Human Resource Management. He says companies view leave benefits as a recruitment tool, especially in fields where talent is scarce or where companies are trying to attract more female workers.

BRUCE ELLIOTT: The gender gap in Silicon Valley, you know, is kind of pushing this to the forefront.

NOGUCHI: That is creating pressure on other industries as well. Judy Cascapera is chief people officer at Nestle, which in June more than doubled its paid leave for new parents for its 340,000 employees worldwide.

JUSY CASCAPERA: Right now more than ever, we are competing with different industries. You know, we're right next to Silicon Valley in California, and we see a lot of employees now coming back and forth or being poached by other industries.

NOGUCHI: So in order to get them to stay, she says, companies are being more generous about letting them go on leave. Yuki Noguchi NPR News, Washington.

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