What do the best companies provide for parental leave?

Feb 2, 2021

We spoke to over 100 companies in 2020. Here’s what we learned about their parental leave policies and benefits.

We created Parentaly with the goal of improving the parental leave experience for everyone: the expectant employee, their coworkers, HR, and their employer. After over a year of building and piloting our coaching and content program, we quietly launched our business in late 2019.

We began working directly with employers to offer our services to expectant and returning parents — providing them with critical tools and coaching support to minimize business disruption and ensure their ongoing career success before and after their parental leaves.

When we launched the business we decided to first speak with companies widely known for being the best employers when it comes to supporting working parents: companies that are in the press with generous policies and benefits, and receive awards for supporting working parents. We believed these companies would be the most likely to invest in their expectant employees. We also knew that the more paid leave a company offers, the more they need execution support (like our service) to ensure the success and retention of their new parent employees.

By the end of 2020, we had spoken to over 100 of these “best in class” employers. Most of these companies were based in the Bay Area and NYC, with others in LA, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis. While the vast majority were technology companies, they ranged from earlier stage start-ups to well-established large corporations. We also spoke to quite a few non-profits, financial institutions and consulting firms. These companies had anywhere from five to 1,000+ parental leaves per year.

In every one of these meetings we asked these companies about their parental leave policies. How much time did they offer? What were their challenges? How do they think about supporting birthing vs. non-birthing parents? What other benefits do they offer?

While all of our conversations are confidential, we believe it’s important to share the anonymized, high-level trends we have discovered after speaking with so many companies.

The information we share below is certainly not representative of the “average” employer. These companies are investing heavily in attracting and retaining a (largely corporate) workforce. But we do believe that as more and more companies — and politicians — recognize the importance of supporting paid parental leave, the trends we note below will become more of the norm.

Of the 100 companies that we spoke with, below is a breakdown of what percent of them offered different amounts of paid leave, by birthing and non-birthing parent

Source: Parentaly conversations with over 100 companies that self-reported how many weeks of paid parental leave they provide birthing and non-birthing parents

16 weeks is the new “premium standard” for birthing parent paid leave. The median and mean paid leave offered to birthing parents is 16 weeks, and the vast majority of companies told us that they increased their leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks in the past two years to “stay competitive.”

Only 10% of companies offered 10 or fewer weeks paid leave for birthing parents. Most of these companies would allow employees to extend their leaves up to 12 or more weeks with unpaid time. Many of these companies were smaller startups, and said they are hoping to increase their paid leave policies in the near future.

24% of companies offer 20 or more weeks of paid leave for birthing parents. These companies range from small non-profits to large financial and tech companies. They are also a combination of companies with a high and low representation of women.

While the median and mean leave for non-birthing parents is 10 weeks, there is a wide range across our data set. In fact, there seems to be no consistent norm when it comes to non-birthing parent leave, with almost equal percentages across 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks.

32% of companies offer the same leave to birthing and non-birthing parents. And the average leave for this subset of companies is 14 weeks.

The most common paid leave structure is 6–8 weeks of disability for the birthing parent, plus a specific number of weeks for parental leave for “bonding time.” Companies will normally choose a “bonding leave” period of anywhere between 6–12 weeks, which means the birthing parent would take a 12–20 week paid leave since their disability time is in addition to bonding time, whereas the non-birthing parent would just get bonding leave.

Allowing (even encouraging!) employees to get creative about how they can “save” some leave to create a shortened workweek for a few months when they return to work. For example: if a company offers 16 weeks of paid parental leave, they may allow employees to use 12 weeks, return to work, and then use the remaining 4 weeks (20 days) to have four day workweeks for their first 20 weeks back at work.

Explicit policies about how much unpaid time you may add on top of your paid parental leave. We typically see this at large companies that give 16+ weeks of paid leave — they might say “you may take 16 weeks paid + up to 8 weeks of unpaid time.” Since FMLA only protects 12 weeks, this is a concrete way of guaranteeing job security if a parent needs to take extra time off.

First day back rule! Returning parents are required to start back at work on a Wednesday instead of a Monday. This makes their first week back much less stressful.

Part-time work for full-time pay: This is becoming more common as a way to help employees slowly transition back to work. Intel and Apple both announced this policy recently.

Working from home: Even before COVID, companies were introducing official WFH policies related to pregnancy. We’ve seen some companies allow the month before the due date to be WFH, as well as additional WFH days after the new parent returns to work.

Non-birthing parents are actually taking all of their parental leave time. For the most part, non-birthing parents are taking the full time offered to them. Companies point to strong leadership support, and supportive policies and benefits related to working parents as the main reasons they think there is no stigma associated with taking full leaves.

Non-birthing parents are usually splitting up their leave into 2–3 smaller leaves. While non-birthing parents are generally taking their full leaves, they are almost always breaking up their time into shorter, intermittent leaves. For example — they will take a month right when the baby is born, return to work for three months while the birthing parent is on leave, and then take another two months at that point in order to extend the time their baby can remain at home before pursuing outsourced childcare. By staggering their leaves, the non-birthing parent also benefits from the experience of providing primary childcare (as opposed to taking their full leave while their partner is also at home). The ability to split up their leave into smaller leaves is an administrative burden on the company as it requires more paperwork, but parents love the ability to structure their leaves in whatever way is most helpful for their specific situation.

Many companies already have some version of a return to work program, but most are actively revisiting it to improve it. Companies are focused on expanding their return to work support to encompass the entire employee experience — not just focusing on administrative to-dos. From investing in parent ERGs, to official re-onboarding programming, companies are introducing more consistent and impactful return to work support.

Some companies provide support to pregnant (and expecting) employees — but this is still an area for improvement. This trend is increasing, particularly larger companies that put together comprehensive manager training and guidance. But overall, we see companies much more focused on the return to work timeframe.

How the manager treats the employee matters more than everything else. Even at companies that offer the most generous policies and benefits, if the manager of the expectant employee isn’t supportive, the new parent employee struggles.

In addition to paid parental leave and generous parental leave policies, companies are also introducing new benefits to support parents. Below are just a few examples.

Backup childcare: This is becoming more common as the ROI to the business is quite high. When standard childcare falls through it’s incredibly stressful and typically parents will take off work or split the day with their partner — which is very disruptive to the business as well. We’re seeing more companies offer emergency backup support because of this, and many companies are increasing their support during COVID. Examples of providers include Bright Horizons, Care.com and Helpr.

Gifts: Spa packages, date night gift cards, a few sessions of career or life coaching, and books about parenting — just to name a few. Some companies provide gifts throughout the entire journey of welcoming a child from the announcement, to the birth, to “welcome back”! There are also companies like Bump Boxes that will customize a series of gifts for expectant and new parents.

Subsidizing the Snoo crib: This $1,200 crib is a popular perk that companies including Hulu, Snap, Qualcomm and Activision are either gifting or subsidizing, according to this report.

Breast milk shipping reimbursement: Pre-COVID, most companies would provide breast milk shipping services via Milk Stork for any breastfeeding employee who had to travel for work.

Fertility support: There are a lot of new companies popping up to provide employer-sponsored fertility support both in terms of knowledge (e.g. FertilityIQ) and actual service (e.g. Carrot).

Paying for childcare providers to go on work trips: KKRPatagonia, and a few other financial companies will actually pay for new parents to bring their baby and a caregiver with them on work travel.

Career coaching: This is becoming a more popular benefit, particularly in law, financial and certain tech companies. Coaching can range from life coaching, to career coaching, to my company’s parental-leave focused coaching program Parentaly. Employees love this benefit because career coaching is normally available only to executives and therefore it is (rightfully) interpreted as a major benefit for the employee. But the truth is — providing your employees with career coaching has huge ROI to the business as well. Coaching dramatically minimizes business disruption and supports employee retention.

Parenting and productivity workshops: Larger companies that want to provide cost-effective support to new parents are increasingly providing workshops, particularly on topics that impact work/life balance.

Subscriptions to tele-health and working parent apps: These apps provide information and consultation with experts across a wide range of parenting and medical topics. Examples include CleoMaven, and Kunik.

Employees need to feel that their work contributions are important, and that they are set up for success at home and at work.

While every parent we talk to loves having generous paid parental leave policies, they also worry about how their absence will impact their future career trajectory.

Therefore, companies need to think about how they can structure policies and benefits that not only allow parents time off to focus on welcoming a new member of their family — but also how they can invest in their employees’ continued career success.