I ran into an old college friend at a barbecue the other day. He has done well for himself in life: a great job in the financial sector, an amazing wife who works for a high end law firm, and three beautiful young children. Naturally, our conversation gravitated toward fatherhood. I asked him if he’d taken any time off for the birth of his kids.
“I took three months of parental leave for the first one,” he said.*
I asked him how that was perceived around the office.
“My boss was almost thanking me. I was the first dad to take advantage of top up and she was really hoping some man would step up.”
I was thrilled to hear it. However, when it came to his other two children, the story changed.
“When my wife was pregnant with our second child, they asked disparagingly, ‘You aren’t going to take any leave this time are you?’”
Not surprisingly, with that tone and the myriad of subtexts that went with it, he didn’t.
By the third child, it wasn’t even asked. The assumption was he was going to stay at work.
In the end, what began as a positive story turned into a discouraging one. What could have been a great progressive move for this company—and a chance to recognize the values of one of their upper level employees -- turned out to be nothing more than a promotional novelty act. Not surprisingly, my former classmate doesn’t feel a ton of loyalty nor wishes to go to the wall for his employer. This company had a golden chance to win him over for life; now he’ll easily consider a move to a different company if he’s offered.
Is parental leave a pain for employers? Yes.
But it’s not as big a problem as turnover and retention.
Think about it.
*In Canada, parents get one year of government subsidized parental leave to be split as they see fit. Many progressive companies will now “top up” your subsidy for some or all of your leave.