Number of employers offering family leave surpasses post-recession levels

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While companies like Amazon, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Netflix and others have announced plans to expand their parental leave policies for employees, the overall rate of parental caregiving and family leave provided by U.S. employers has remained unchanged since 2012.

The highest rates for parental caregiving were recorded in 2005 and dipped during the years of the recession, 2008–10. According to the annual survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and The Families and Work Institute, The National Study of Employers found that the amount of parental leave has started to surpass 2012 levels but stays well under 85% utilization.

For example, the survey found that the percentage of employers allowing employees to return to work gradually after the birth of a child or adoption grew from 73% in 2012 to 81% in 2016. The percentage of employers allowing employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal or family responsibilities rose from 2% in 2012 to 28% in 2016.

The survey also found that the average maximum number of weeks of maternity leave is 14.5. A little more than 11 weeks is the average leave for a spouse/partner/paternity leave.

“We saw a dip after the recession of 2008, but it has returned to previous levels,” says Elizabeth Galinsky, SHRM’s senior research adviser, president and co-founder of FWI and an author of the study.

Over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased 12 percentage points, from 46% to 58%. Among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline — from 17% in 2005 to 10% in 2016. In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6% offer full pay, Galinsky notes.

Employers reported that extended family leave policies help attract and retain workers in a tight job market. “Respondents said they are doing this for retention purposes. They know that they have to offer this in order to retain staff. And it’s not just the cutting-edge technology firms; the more traditional sectors of the market realize that they have to offer this,” she says.

Caring for aging parents has added a burden to millennial and Generation X employees, and employers are responding by extending benefits to workers in this situation. “Elder care is on people’s mind,” Galinsky says, “and it’s a difficult topic. We interviewed people and we asked open-ended questions.”

Flex hours are tightening up

The survey found a decline in employers allowing flex time. SHRM and FIW found that the percentage of employers allowing employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal matters without losing pay sank from 87% in 2012 to 81% in 2016.

“We saw a slight decrease in the number of companies that provide daily flexibility,” Galinsky says, adding that employees need the flex-time option for unexpected occurrences such as taking an elderly parent to a doctor appointment or waiting for a repairman to fix a leaky roof. “The other takeaway is that where there is a policy, unless there is a culture that supports it, it doesn’t yield the intended effects,” she notes. “If people are scared to take a benefit, it doesn’t help employees or employers.”

Telework is taking hold in the workplace. The study found that 40% of employers allow employees to work some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis, up from 33% in 2012. The option of working from home occasionally nearly doubled, from 34% in 2005 to 66% in 2016.

The National Study of Employers survey gathered data and responses from 920 for-profit and nonprofit employers in the United States with 50 or more employees.

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