Strong paid leave programs are proven to be a vital tool for protecting employees’ and businesses’ economic security and health during the current global pandemic. A new report provides recommendations for companies looking to improve policies and develop supportive workplace practices to reduce employee attrition and gender inequalities exacerbated by the crisis.
A new study reveals that employers with strong paid leave policies were better able to respond and adapt to the macro-level shock caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost three quarters (72.5%) of businesses surveyed reported that their paid leave policies positively impacted their ability to navigate the crisis, further bolstering the business and public policy case for expansion and implementation of paid leave policies. Companies that offered paid leave policies also benefited from greater employee morale, workplace satisfaction and retention and were better able to support women considering exiting the workforce amidst rising caregiving and parenting responsibilities.
Equimundo and Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), in collaboration with the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force (PLCTF), surveyed and interviewed 40 companies across the US and the UK, representing more than half a million employees globally. The study assessed the impact of paid leave policies on companies of various sizes: large (over 5000 employees), medium (51-5000 employees), and small (1-50 employees).
The resulting report, Paid Leave and the Pandemic: Effective Workplace Policies and Practices for a Time of Crisis and Beyond, finds that a majority of the companies surveyed (80%) noted that they are considering updating or expanding paid leave policies and almost half (43%) stated that they intended on making the policy changes permanent, to encourage greater stability and employee loyalty and to reflect the realities of a post-COVID working landscape.
Annie Sartor, Senior Director of Business Partnerships from PL+US said: “This study confirms that businesses with stronger paid leave policies in place were better able to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, keeping employees and customers healthy while reducing rates of attrition and turnover. Companies large and small have seen first-hand that paid leave is now a necessity and are updating their paid leave policies to reflect the realities of the pandemic. Beyond that, while businesses have put in place short term policies in response to the pandemic, they recognize the long-term value of these new or expanded policies.”
Whilst paid leave programs have proven critical for companies seeking to navigate the current crisis, their utilization varies, largely driven by gender norms, leadership modeling, and workplace culture. Even before the pandemic, data showed that fewer than half of dads took the full amount of leave they were entitled to under their national policies. While 85% of dads said they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their new child, only 55% of men felt extremely supported by senior managers in their companies to take leave, compared to 4 in 5 women.
The new report suggests that this trend continues and was especially amplified, with women predominantly taking on increased caregiving responsibilities: nearly half (47.5%) of companies report that half or more of those who utilized paid leave were female. Importantly, 30% of the companies surveyed did not track or report gender data – potentially missing out on an opportunity to understand and close gender-related gaps. For companies to be successful in providing equitable use of paid leave across genders, it is critical to foster an environment that encourages men to be present and engaged caregivers, reducing the gender gap in the workplace. In particular, businesses reported that senior male leaders play a key role in setting the tone for an organization and fostering a culture where employees feel more comfortable taking advantage of paid leave.
Parental leave – for all parents and caregivers – is one of the most effective long-term investments in changing, challenging, and shifting gender stereotypes.
Gary Barker, President and CEO, Equimundo and Co-Chair of the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force said: “If we want new fathers to take parental leave – and we should – a great policy is not enough. We need men in senior leadership positions to set the example by taking it themselves and supporting a workplace culture that encourages all parents to leverage available caregiving benefits. Unless we see more male CEOs and executives leading on leave and modeling their role in shared caregiving, we’ll never shift the cultures inside workplaces that keep men from taking it, even when it’s provided to them.”
For frontline, care and hourly workers, paid leave may not be a reality and the burden is even heavier. The report found that more than three-quarters of all companies surveyed said that a national paid leave public policy would help them be better positioned to weather future public health emergencies and economic crises – with support especially strong among small businesses. The report also found that small businesses would benefit the most from public paid leave policy: 55% of those surveyed in the recent study do not provide any paid family caregiving leave and 45% do not provide any paid medical leave – further highlighting the importance of public policy to democratize access to leave for all employees at businesses large and small.
Carlos-Javier Gil, Vice President Global Brand, Dove Men+Care and Co-Chair of the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force said: “While the pandemic saw companies face unprecedented territory, it also provided a blueprint for the possibility of building something better that could help future-proof businesses for whatever is ahead. There is now an opportunity to reimagine policies and practices for working families today, to provide the support and flexibility employees need for their health, caregiving and parental responsibilities in a post-COVID world, without sacrificing the bottom line. As a Task Force, we’re committed to raise awareness of, and create lasting change to parental leave policies at scale.”
The study reveals an urgent need for a permanent paid leave program in the US, currently the only industrialized country without a public policy, and accelerated support from the business community for a national public policy. It encourages companies to advance meaningful paid leave access for employees globally and create workplaces where the uptake of leave is supported and encouraged. It recommends the following as a blueprint for companies looking for practical steps to improve policies and develop supporting workplace practices:
- Implement strong gender-informed paid leave company policies to ensure that all employees (salaried, hourly, full-time, part-time, and subcontractors) and to all parents (birthing mothers and fathers, adoptive, foster, those who become parents via surrogacy, and all other parents) can access high-quality policy.
- Create a workplace culture and foster leadership modeling so paid leave can be utilized and optimized by all employees to increase gender-equal uptake of paid leave and support employees and their families by ensuring policies and processes are clear, accessible, flexible, and equitable.
- Join a growing chorus of businesses supporting a federal paid family and medical leave policy in the United States by joining PL+US’ effort to mobilize the business community to help pass federal public policy.
More information on the report – Paid Leave and the Pandemic: Effective Workplace Policies and Practices for a Time of Crisis and Beyond – can be found here: paidleave.us/paidleaveandthepandemic
To learn more about the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force, visit: leavefordads.com
Read the full report here.
35 per cent answered “yes” to updating or expanding paid leave policies to meet workforce needs and/or protect customer safety and 45 per cent answered maybe doing so