Study: Little Change to Maternity, Paternity Leave at U.S. Employers

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 8, 2017
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​The average amount of parental and caregiving leave that U.S. employers offer has not changed significantly since 2012, according to a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

High-profile organizations such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young have announced in recent years that they were expanding parental leave. In December 2016, for example, American Express, a global financial services firm, increased its paid parental leave policy to 20 weeks and provided a comprehensive package of family-friendly benefits, SHRM Online reported in December 2016.

But while large companies may be trying to one-up each other with flexibility arrangements as they engage in a recruiting and retention battle, the National Study of Employers found that 14.5 weeks is the average maximum amount of maternity leave that U.S. companies offered in 2016—a miniscule increase from 14.2 weeks—and a little more than 11 weeks is the average amount of paternity leave, up slightly from 10.6 weeks.

"This means," the report noted, "that while there has been much talk in the press of the laudable changes instituted by these [large] organizations, they do not represent a sea change in the length of parental leave options offered by the majority of organizations."

The comprehensive study, which examines how employers are responding to the changing workforce, is based on a national survey conducted between September 2015 and February 2016 with 920 HR directors at for-profit and nonprofit employers with 50 or more employees. The survey was conducted online and by telephone. The results highlight how employee-supportive policies have fluctuated over the past 11 years.

Ellen Galinsky, FWI co-founder and president, and an author of the study, will share highlights of the study and answer questions during a Facebook Live appearance at 1 p.m. Eastern time today. She also is a senior research advisor at SHRM. Visit SHRM's Facebook page to participate in the discussion. Questions may be submitted ahead of the discussion to press@shrm.org or by Facebook and Twitter using #SHRMNSE. Questions also may be posted to Facebook during Galinsky's presentation.

From 2005 to 2016, the percentage of organizations offering some replacement pay for women on maternity leave increased from 46 percent to 58 percent, Galinsky noted in a news release. Most of that change happened between 2005 and 2012, the study noted.

Among employers offering replacement pay, though, the percentage of those offering full pay continued to drop from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016. In 2016, only 6 percent of all employers with 50 or more employees surveyed offered full pay during maternity leave, the study found.

President Donald Trump touched briefly on paid parental leave and affordable child care during his joint address to Congress on Feb. 28.

"My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women's health, and to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure," he said.

However, several family-leave bills that Congress introduced in recent years stalled because they were deemed too expensive or burdensome to employers, SHRM Online reported Feb. 22. 

Workplace Flexibility

There is a greater expectation for work flexibility among younger employees who have grown up in a "work anytime, anywhere" world, Galinsky told SHRM Online, noting that some surveys show they would take less pay in exchange for that flexibility. A 2016 survey by the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, found that the average employee would give up 20 percent of wages in return for alternative work arrangements, such as flexible scheduling or working from home.

Between 2012 and 2016, FWI found that:

  • 81 percent of employers allow at least some employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption. That's up from 73 percent in 2012.
  • 40 percent of employers allow employees to work some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis. That's up from 33 percent in 2012.
  • 66 percent of employers allow workers to work from home occasionally. That's up from 34 percent in 2005. Galinsky attributed this increase to improvements in technology and increasing real estate costs for employers.

 [SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Work/Life Fit: Elder Care]

There was a dramatic drop—from 31 percent in 2005 to 14 percent in 2016—in rewarding supervisors for supporting flexible work arrangements, such as through praise or performance review incentives.

"This is worrisome because having policies is not enough. Without management support, employees can't use [these] policies. This suggests the need for more training for supervisors and others who manage employees," Galinsky said in the news release.

"You can have any program or policy on the books, but if people are frowned upon for using it ... it's not going to reach its intended effects," she told SHRM Online.

She predicted flexibility around working from home will continue, especially as Millennials dominate the workplace. She said she hopes there will be a return to allowing unscheduled, just-in-time flexibility so employees may respond to a loved one's need, whether it's a caregiving situation or attending a school event. That practice has dropped somewhat—from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016.

"That's the thing people want the most—having time for that is always a very high priority," Galinsky said. "It's so important."

FWI first conducted its National Study of Employers in 1998 and has produced it every two years since 2012.

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