Family Matters for Employees: Why Employers Should Care

dadThe recent debate over Facebook and Apple’s decision to cover the costs of freezing embryos brings back memories. When I was in law school in the mid-1980s, I really wanted to be a lawyer. But I wanted to be a mother even more and very curious about how to do both. The woman law firm partners I knew had waited to start their families until they made partner (typically 7-8 years, back then). And to a woman, they told me “don’t wait”—because it doesn’t get easier physically or professionally.

Regardless of when and how you become a parent, the transition to parenthood is both an exciting and scary time for both mothers and fathers. Given the realities of life in America, most expectant parents are also employed, and, therefore, are navigating not just this new role—but also the combining of roles. How this transition is experienced can have repercussions far beyond the baby’s first few months of life, not just for families and communities, but also for work and workplaces.

New parents at KPMG LLP—an audit, tax and advisory services firm with more than 23,000 people in the U.S.—told firm leaders that not worrying about the financial consequences of taking time to bond with a new child and adjust to the new responsibility of being a parent would “make a huge difference in how they felt about the firm,” according to Barbara Wankoff, Director of Workplace Solutions.

Family-Matters-coverIn Family Matters, a briefing by Families and Work Institute sponsored by on the business case for investing in the transition to parenthood, we review the mounting evidence that helping new parents through this transition is good for business because it’s good for families, and we profile leading practices to inspire business leaders to take action.

One such business leader is KPMG. This year, as a result of new parents requests, the firm more than doubled its parental leave benefits and now provides up to 12 weeks of 100% paid short-term disability leave plus six weeks of parental leave for primary caregivers at 100% of wage replacement. As Wankoff explains, “We want to send a clear message to all our expectant parents: we want you back!”

While KPMG management stepped up for their employees, most expectant parents in the U.S. do not have access to paid parental leave, let alone coverage for frozen embryos. Twenty years since the full implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the last major piece of legislation to address the issues of new parents, it is time to evaluate what works for both employees and employers with respect to this key point in people’s lives.

The employers we spotlight in our report are realizing parenting issues are of growing importance among their workforces and are making changes to help employees with this transition. Indeed, Chevron, the energy company, found parenting difficulties were among the top five issues employees seek assistance for from the firm’s Employee Assistance Program. And, recently, the company opened an onsite child care center in Houston, Texas, and it filled up quickly, notes Sara Kashima, an advisor for Work-Life Services at Chevron. “One of the findings from the first year of operation,” she adds, “is that fathers are much more involved in decisions around child care than we hand anticipated.”

AnnePhotoAs for my parenting decision, I took the women who told me not to wait literally, and was pregnant with my first child, Sarah, when I was still in law school and 28 years old. (Yes, that is me in the picture!)

Now the tables are turned, and I am the one who gets asked, “When should we start a family?” Since there is never a “perfect time” to become a parent, my answer is always, “When it’s right for you.”

In the end, individuals will have the biggest role in ensuring a smooth transition to parenthood, but how the nation’s employers adapt to the shifting workforce dynamics will also play a key role in ensuring the well-being and productivity of their employees. (Indeed, this at the heart of what we cover in our Family Matters report.)

Let us know how you made the transition to parenthood work for you; and, if you’re an employer, share your experiences in your workplace.

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