When her 17-year old son needed partial hospitalization for symptoms arising from his Asperger’s syndrome, Marcia Haugstad, a manager at Deloitte, requested paid family leave. Unfortunately, just as he was progressing enough for her to think about getting back to work, her elderly mother suffered a bad fall that broke her pelvis.
“I called Deloitte and told them about my mother. My team was 100% supportive,” she recalls. “They agreed I should take the full four months off. That got us almost all the way to the end of my mother’s rehab period.”
Deloitte’s U.S. well-being leader, Jen Fisher, asserts that many of the company’s employees are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for children and aging parents at the same time. These workers are most likely gen Xers, who are sandwiched in between boomers and millennials and don’t get a lot of attention. It’s ironic when you consider that the highest percentage of managers (37%) are gen X. According to the most recent workforce data from Gallup, 11% of gen X managers care for an elderly or disabled person, and 64% have one child or more living at home.
Paid family leave takes on a new meaning for workers like Haugstad, because it’s not just about taking care of a new baby, but also for sick family members.
According to the Society For Human Resources Management (SHRM), over 75% of employers say caregiving benefits will grow in importance to their companies over the next five years, especially when it comes to caring for elderly or ailing family members.
That’s likely because as AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer Nancy LeaMond noted in HR Today, “Of today’s 40 million family caregivers, 24 million are juggling caregiving responsibilities and employment. By recognizing and supporting their needs, employers can improve productivity and foster a stable and healthy workforce.”
This is becoming increasingly important, because as unemployment hovers at historic lows (4.1% for the last six months running), employers’ bids to attract and retain talent has heated up. And while some are tailored to attract millennials (see student loan repayment), others are targeting this growing slice of the workforce that’s often overlooked.
Fast Company recently asked some companies about their approach to extended paid family leave and how it is affecting their businesses.
Fisher at Deloitte says their program provides 16 weeks of paid time off annually for a range of caregiving needs, including the addition of a new child through birth or adoption, supporting aging parents, and caring for an ill sibling, spouse/partner, or child. “We recognize that family dynamics and structures are constantly evolving,” she says. “This, in addition to our focus on innovating our well-being-related offerings to meet the diverse needs of our multi-generational workforce, prompted us to rethink our parental leave program and take a broader, more inclusive approach to caregiving.”
The response, she asserts, has been “phenomenal.” She says that leadership received numerous emails from staff, some of whom shared their personal caregiving stories and gratitude for the additional support. Others said that although they may never need the program, it gives them peace of mind knowing that it is there. “Program participants have also shared the incredible impact that the program has had on their families and their own well-being,” Fisher says.
For her part, Haugstad contends that she didn’t think she would have been as productive if she had to juggle work and time at the hospital for both her son and mother. “My clients wouldn’t have had the best of me, that’s for sure,” says Haugstad.
Echoing this sentiment is Rosemary Arriada-Keiper, vice president of Global Rewards at Adobe. “Employees need to be able to care for themselves and their families at home before they can be their best at work,” she notes.
As part of Adobe’s enhanced family leave that the company announced in 2015, Adobe provides employees up to four weeks of paid time to care for a sick family member. Adobe also offers a backup care program through Bright Horizons to provide up to 100 hours of temporary care for employees’ loved ones, including parents, adult children, spouses/domestic partners, and in-laws while the employee is at work.
Although they weren’t able to provide any data on how this has affected their retention rates in the past two years, Arriada-Keiper says, “Our employees are our greatest asset, so when we do the right thing for them, it’s inevitably the right thing for the business.”
Large companies aren’t the only ones willing to stretch their paid leave benefits.
Norway, the country often at the leading edge of offering paid leave and other family-friendly benefits, is having an impact on a very small slice of the U.S. workforce through the Oslo-based Kahoot! Falguni Bhuta, Kahoot’s head of global communications and partner marketing, is one of four U.S.-based employees of the 50-person edtech company.
She says that the Norwegian government mandates such things as getting 60 days paid time off to take care of a sick aging parent. Otherwise, in-home elder care is subsidized by the government, and If your dependents (such as a spouse) are sick or disabled, you get don’t get time off to care for them, but you do get paid time off to take care of yourself to combat the attendant mental stress associated with caregiving.
While the four U.S. employees, don’t get exactly the same mandated benefits, Bhuta says, “As someone who’s worked for a Norwegian company for the last 10 years, the level of flexibility to take care of loved ones (whether children or elders), when needed, is higher compared to other jobs I have had with U.S.-based companies.”
Coursera, with just over 250 staffers, has an unlimited paid time off (PTO) policy, which can be used toward caring for loved ones. A Coursera spokesperson says that those who are drawn to work for the company for its mission are simply asked to apply their good judgment and discretion while taking benefit of uncapped PTO. “If in doubt, they can discuss that with their manager on how to best avail the benefit,” according to the spokesperson.
Last year, mapping software company Planet launched a paid family leave program that offers up to six weeks of full salary for employees who have family members in need of care. Cara Brennan Allamano, the senior vice president of Planet’s People+Places Team, says, “We feel it’s important that our employees have the time and flexibility to take care of their family responsibilities. It assures us that they are more connected, present, and innovative on the job.” While she doesn’t have any specific data to share, Brennan Allamano says, “We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from those utilizing the benefit, and feel this greatly impacts our talent attraction and retention strategy.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect how the benefits for U.S. employees at Norwegian company Kahoot! compare to those in Norway.