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What Netflix, Cisco and others are doing to support stressed-out working parents

Sheryl Kraft, special to CNBC.com
Key Points
  • Netflix, Cisco, Intuit and other employers are recognizing the value of parental leave policies for recruitment and retention and are supplementing existing benefits or creating new ones.
  • Today 72% of moms are employed, either full-time or part-time. Of these, 55% have children younger than 18, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis.
  • Yet many U.S. companies don't go beyond the basic requirements to support a new parent's transition back to work.
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Sometimes it takes more than a village to raise a family. Sometimes it takes a company as well.

For new parents transitioning back to work, the stress of straddling between caring for a newborn and performing well at the office can be overwhelming. According to a new Pew Research study, about half of working parents feel they are not able to give 100% at work; others claim child-care costs are so high, they needed to reduce their hours; and many say they are treated as if they are not committed to their work and have been passed over for a promotion.

With 72% of moms employed today, 55% of which have children younger than 18, companies like Netflix, Cisco and Intuit are recognizing the value of supplementing existing benefits or creating new ones and instituting lengthy parental leave policies to recruit and keep top talent.

It's a rising trend: According to Willis Towers Watson's 2019 Best Practices in Health Care Survey, more than 1 in 4 employers currently offer child-care support services, backup day care and child-care subsidies, with 13% considering these benefits for 2021.

'One consistent federal law would be helpful'

Sadly, many companies don't go beyond the basic requirements, which vary widely by company as well as by federal, state and municipal laws. "One consistent federal law would be helpful to avoid state-by-state differentiations and also help create a competitive playing field for all employers," says attorney Richard I. Greenberg of Jackson Lewis, a national workplace law firm.

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave and guarantee their job following the birth of their child. Yet there are exceptions for companies with less than 50 employees, for workers who have been employed less than 12 months and employees whose earnings account for the top 10% of wages; and the law only covers about 60% of the workforce.

The United States lags behind many countries who provide some form of nationally-paid parental leave guaranteed under law. To date, only nine jurisdictions — California, Connecticut, DC, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oregon and Washington — have enacted paid family leave laws, according to Greenberg.

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Closing the Gap: Spotlight on paid parental leave

Just 13% of American workers benefit from paid family leave through private-sector employers. And while there are some other rights and protections granted under federal law, like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, which make it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to "treat you unfairly while you're pregnant or if your pregnancy has created a disability," it's not enough.

Netflix, Cisco and others are stepping up

Research has shown that the cost to replace an employee can be six to nine months of their salary in recruiting and training costs, notes Kathy Caprino, a career success coach and leadership trainer in Stamford, Connecticut. As a result, many employers are starting to recognize the value of parental leave policies for recruitment and retention by either supplementing the existing benefits or creating new ones.

Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory company, found in their 2019 Best Practices in Health Care Survey that more employers are rethinking benefits.

"Employers are looking at the issue holistically with the focus on work-life balance," says Rachael McCann, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, who adds that the landscape for new parents is changing quickly. More than just child care — with many offering on or near-site locations — companies are considering parental leave, or "bonding time" with the new baby and "returnship programs," which offer resources to address issues like postpartum depression and the stress of returning to work. And it reaches beyond that, offering manager training to support and understand the new parent "so they can bring their best self to work," McCann says.

'Morally the right thing to do'

Accommodating new parents in the workplace is morally the right thing to do, says Laszlo Bock, CEO and founder of the HR start-up Humu, and former senior vice president of people operations at Google. "The decision to have a child shouldn't force you out of the workplace or cut into your potential; supporting new parents helps you hold on to great people — especially new moms," he says. As such, Humu offers a year of parental leave with full pay for the first six months, with the option to return to work part-time for that last month.

"By easing back into the swing of things, new parents can better catch up on the job and better adjust to being away from their newborns," Bock says.

At Netflix, parents are free to decide for themselves. Expectant mothers can take as much time as they need to get their work done, according to a Netflix spokesperson who describes their culture as one of "freedom and responsibility" that also allows new parents to figure out the time they need to bond with their new child. Most take anywhere from four to eight months.

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Button, a New York City-based mobile technology start-up, has an employee base that includes employees who are growing their families. Their chief people officer, Stephanie Mardell, says that family is top priority; as such, they offer an 18-week paid parental leave to all new parents following the birth, adoption or surrogate birth of a child; parenting or childbirth classes; breastfeeding counseling with a lactation consultant; back-to-work career counseling and "baby" cash to help offset costs. In addition, the company offers a six-month rental of a SNOO Smart Baby Sleeper, an intelligent bassinet to help newborns sleep soundly through the night.

At Cisco, which ranks No. 2 on Fortune's 2019 Best Workplaces for Parents, the new baby's main caregiver receives 13 consecutive weeks of paid bonding leave, while the supporting caregiver (mom or dad supporting their spouse or partner) is given four weeks of paid time off. Additionally, Cisco provides financial support to employees for fertility services, adoption or surrogacy. Mothers returning to the workplace can escape to a "mother's room" — a dedicated, private place complete with refrigerators, wireless connectivity and outlets for breast pumps (for which they offer a $100 purchase subsidy) after dropping their child at either an on-site LifeConnections Learning Center or a nearby community Cisco-preferred child-care center.

To further ease back into the workplace after being away, Intuit offers Intuit Again, which helps returning employees refresh their skills through a 16-week supported, structured program providing technical training and on-the-job experience.

New parents who work for DocuSign are offered at least six months of paid leave; supporting parents receive three months. "Once new parents return to the workplace, we encourage them to work with managers to come up with a schedule to ease the transition," says chief people officer Joan Burke. An added perk is paid access to Milk Stork, a service that allows traveling moms the ability to preserve their breast milk and quickly ship it home to their babies.

The transition back to work can be one of the most intense moments in a new working mom's life, says Jennifer Owens, former editorial director of Working Mother Media and founding director of the Working Mother Research Institute. "The best employers know all about this — and help them prepare for it," she notes, adding that allowing for a part-time return to work, a remote schedule or even a job-share option can go a long way in easing the transition back, as well as showing support for their important and dedicated employee.

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