Paid Leave Benefits Can Sharpen Your Competitive Edge

Here's why HR should care about caregiving.

By Henry G. Jackson Feb 27, 2017

​Henry G. Jackson

​Whether caring for an aging parent, welcoming a newborn or handling family medical issues that require extended time off, employees experiencing these and similar life events may face stressful and demanding challenges. For those without the benefit of employer-provided paid leave, the burden is even heavier, as these workers are left to rely on the federal floor of unpaid leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

While there is no federal requirement for organizations to provide paid leave after the birth of a child, 26 percent of employers offer some form of paid maternity leave and 21 percent offer some form of paid paternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) 2016 Employee Benefits research report. Even more companies offer short-term disability plans that often include paid leave for new parents. However, there is still a lot of space in the talent marketplace to expand this sought-after benefit.

High costs are cited as the biggest barrier to providing paid leave, but now, more than ever, companies risk losing great talent to rivals with more-robust policies—here and abroad. In addition, employers struggle with a growing patchwork of state and local leave laws that hinder innovation and add to compliance costs. This is why SHRM is advocating for public policies that would provide relief to employers while guaranteeing paid leave and expanded flexibility options for full- and part-time employees. The issue of paid leave was featured during the presidential campaign and is poised to be a focus of congressional consideration in 2017.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Family and Medical Leave]

According to one of the feature articles in this month’s issue of HR Magazine, "Is Paid Family Leave Becoming the New Standard for Employers?," a growing number of organizations are expanding their workplace flexibility offerings. Last year, more than two dozen large U.S. employers—including American Express, Deloitte, EY, Campbell’s, First Data and Etsy—announced that they would significantly strengthen their paid-family-leave benefits. Their approaches range from extending the amount of paid-leave time available to broadening categories of eligible individuals and covered situations. However, in all instances, a powerful business case was behind the decision. Many leaders believe paid leave is a winning strategy and are promoting it widely to stakeholders and shareholders.

A carefully analyzed and applied family-leave benefit can be a differentiator in today’s hypercompetitive talent marketplace. Even midsize and small enterprises can offer budget- and family-friendly policies such as flexible schedules. The important thing is to develop a workplace where employees’ work/life needs are valued and supported and where the right benefits, rewards and adaptability are offered across an employee’s life cycle.

SHRM’s When Work Works initiative offers innovative ideas and guides for employers of all sizes and industries wanting to add work/life programs to their menu.

Paid parental leave and other workplace flexibility programs are not only about competing or compliance. They are also about doing the right thing for the organization and employees. As HR professionals, it’s up to us to help cultivate cultures where both employees and employers win.

Henry G. Jackson is the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

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