How Startups Can Become The Unexpected Parental Leave Champs

Work hard, write code, get rich. The technology business is rarely regarded as anything other than fast-paced and family phobic. But the last few months have felt like a summer of change, as companies’ parental leave policies came under the spotlight, with businesses large and small falling over themselves to offer staff greater and greater benefits.

In June, Virgin Management declared that new dads among its employees would join moms in getting 12 months of fully paid leave. In August, Netflix made headlines when it announced unlimited paid parental leave for all staff for a year following the birth of their child.

According to the International Labour Organization, the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have federally mandated paid maternity leave. Still, most Americans regard the tech industry as a favorable place to work, with forward-leaning family policies.

Our biggest tech firms are among the top 20 of a 50-strong list of the best places in America for new dads to work. Google offers 18 weeks in maternity leave, Twitter offers 20 weeks and Instagram and Reddit have equalized their 17-week offer to both moms and dads alike.

Against the backdrop of an excessive and imbalanced hyper-work culture, as depicted in a recent New York Times article, it is a joy to see some of our peers evolve to become more family friendly. After pensions, holidays and health insurance, parental leave has become the new employee benefits battleground.

And the push for better policies may now have gathered enough traction to be unstoppable. Netflix’s generous move has set the benchmark for tech companies that want to attract talented employees and be good employers. Expect a grassroots movement to take hold — staff who want a better deal from their existing companies may soon be able to demand a better package, lest they be tempted by a more generous rival.

How Can Small Startups Offer Generous Paid Leave?

For the many small- and medium-sized businesses out there already fighting in the tech talent wars, the luxurious offers that titans are able make may seem impossible. How can tiny startups compete with giant corporations offering talent a paid year off work?

  • Be yourself. Don’t be dazzled by Netflix — owners of small- and medium-sized companies should take a look at what makes sense for their company. It may be unfeasible for a five-person team to be reduced to four for six months. But it could be manageable to allow new parents to take on reduced-hours in a work-from-home environment. Even if your team is unable to offer any sort of leave, it is better to be upfront about this policy to save your employees from confusion and anxiety.

  • Consider company-wide policy. Can your organization support unlimited leave for all, or do some roles require availability? If so, bosses must transparently communicate disparities in policies to avoid resentment brewing. Bosses can lead by example, by taking the same type of leave they expect their employees to take.

  • Forget about gender. Many countries have already moved away from gender-based parental policies. Today, the majority of men and women are splitting child-rearing responsibilities equally. To stay on the right side of history, it’s important for your company to keep this in mind when doling out family leave packages.

Why Should Startups Offer Generous Paid Leave?

Ultimately, startups should be approaching their family policies as a strategic business decision, which will affect the strength of their company culture as well as their bottom line.

  • Stress is capital-intensive. The mental pressure of not appropriately balancing family and employment imperatives takes its toll on workers. A sleep-deprived new parent simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to be putting in 110 percent.

  • Family focused personnel is focused personnel. Staff who are allowed to fully engage with their family tend to be more engaged in the office, too. When you stop pressuring employees to make a choice, they are able to give you their best when they are on the job.

  • People stay at happy companies. Employee loyalty and retention rockets when you free staff to embrace all aspects of their lives. The worker who feels unable to balance home and work life is the one who scours the job ads, so keep your best people aboard by being generous.

  • Think global. With U.S. provision so far behind the rest of the world, companies growing overseas may find worker resentment growing across international boundaries. It is wise to harmonize teams and policies to the greatest extent possible.

Smaller Startups Are Already Joining The Trend

A number of growing businesses are beginning to implement parental-leave policies that work for them. Mattermark, a business intelligence platform, just this year began offering 12 weeks of maternity and paternity leave.

In our current knowledge economy, your people are your primary asset.

“A lot of companies are started by young founders who learn so much on the job,” Andy Sparks, the COO of Mattermark, told The Atlantic. “They don’t really know what they are doing and blinders are up to anything that is not right in front of them… we realized we needed to be conscious of family leave if we wanted to respect people’s lives outside of work, even if no one had kids yet.”

Other startups such as Be Found Online, Cyberclick and all offer new parents flexible schedules and leave time, tailored to what each individual employee needs. This is a great strategy for small startups that lean more heavily on a limited staff.

LeaveLogic, a Seattle-based startup launched earlier this year, actually has a mission of helping other startups navigate parental leave. Their platform aims to help employees and employers plan together what their leave time will look like, keeping everyone informed and prepared.

In our current knowledge economy, your people are your primary asset. Happier people equal more passionate and committed staff. So move with the trend — start acknowledging your staff as whole human beings, with strong family commitment and loyalties that deserve to be recognized and rewarded.