Netflix offers one year of paid parental leave. Is the system changing?

Netflix announced Tuesday that it will offer new mothers and fathers as much time off as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

Paul Sakuma/AP Photo/File
The Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. showcases the company's logo on March 20, 2012. Netflix announced on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2015 that it will start offering new parents up to one year of paid time off.

Those planning on starting a family may want to think about working for Netflix.

The video-streaming giant will now offer up to one year of paid time off to new mothers and fathers, chief talent officer Tawni Cranz announced via blog post Tuesday. It’s a policy that is generous even for Silicon Valley, where free meals, gym memberships, and other perks complement high salaries in the competition for top talent – and where companies are displaying a growing understanding of the influence of home life on the work environment.

“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” Ms. Cranz wrote. “Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home.”

Tech companies are known to offer some of the best parental leave programs in the country, according to a March survey by The Atlantic. Google, for instance, offers biological mothers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and 22 if there are complications. Parents can also take up to 12 weeks of paid baby-bonding time.

Facebook gives all new parents up to four months paid leave plus $4,000 in “baby cash.” Apple also offers expectant mothers up to 18 weeks of paid leave, while fathers and non-birth parents can take up to six weeks.

The fight to find and keep talented employees is part of what’s pushing change, as companies lure potential workers with competitive benefits packages.

And while companies – particularly small- and medium-sized ones – continue to debate the effects of paid time off for new parents, evidence is mounting that when it comes to parental leave, these businesses often “overestimate the costs and underestimate potential gains, including happier workers, lower employee turnover and less absenteeism,” according to a 2014 study by the International Labor Organization.

Still, big tech companies tend to be the exception, not the rule – especially in the US, which remains the worst among developed countries in terms of the amount of leave time new mothers receive, The Christian Science Monitor reported last year.

“[T]he 1993 Family Medical Leave Act provides most US workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons during a 12-month period,” the Monitor noted, but only about four in 10 US workers say they have access to paid family leave for the birth of a child.

Part of it has to do with employment culture in the US.

“The progressive and inspiring policies of many of tech’s most prominent companies have not yet trickled down to the rest of the industry, either in practice or in priorities,” The Atlantic noted.

But those policies are a start.

Netflix’s new program, for instance, would provide new mothers and fathers as much time off as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption. Coupled with the company’s existing unlimited vacation time, the policy would allow “employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated,” Cranz wrote.

“We’re finally, slowly, getting used to the idea of mothers in the workplace,” Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” told The Los Angeles Times. “Employers can no longer ignore family issues, or continue to denigrate them as ‘Mommy issues.’”

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