Paid parental leave for both men and women has been shown to benefit both families and employers. Studies have found that there are many benefits of paid parental leave, from increase in mood and health, employee productivity, and boost in overall morale in the workplace.
However, while many countries around the world offer extensive paid parental leave for expecting families—including adoption, fostering, and birth—the U.S. is the only developed country that does not offer any paid parental leave and only requires 12 weeks unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Even still, not everyone is eligible for this mandated parental leave as FMLA applies only to workers in companies with 50 or more workers.
While many may be accustomed to these low numbers, it is far from the norm when compared to other countries. The International Labour Organization (ILO) calls for a minimum 12-week leave although a 14-week leave is recommended and, on average, maternity leave in Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries lasts 18 weeks, though many extend beyond this.
While extended parental leave beyond 12 weeks is not mandated by law in the U.S., companies have the option to extend the number of weeks offered and provide paid leave. Companies that do so can reap the benefits of paid parental leave offers both families and businesses, helping to foster a more inclusive workplace culture.
So what are some of the benefits of paid parental leave and how can businesses implement better maternity and paternity policies into their workplace?
How paid parental leave benefits families and businesses
Research shows that paid maternity leave is good for individuals, businesses, and the economy. One study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that it keeps women in the workforce and lowers their need for public assistance. Other studies also show paid parental leave increases women’s participation in the workforce and reduces gender pay gaps.
Additionally, paid parental leave has been shown to significantly improve maternal physical and mental health by allowing mothers time to recover from childbirth and adjust to new caregiving responsibilities. One report found that about half of women expressed experiencing pain within the first two months following childbirth, along with a substantial majority of new mothers experiencing “baby blues” after childbirth. For 1 in 5 women, those feelings develop into postpartum depression.
However, mothers who took paid parental leave were less likely to experience symptoms of postpartum depression and less likely to report parenting stress.
Paid parental leave also improves economic security and a study on California’s paid leave program found that it lowered the risk of poverty among mothers by 10.2 percent, increased income for those mothers by 4.1 percent, and reduced food insecurity among households. These effects were strongest among low-income mothers, many of whom are often women of color.
On average, women of color are paid less than white non-Hispanic women and men and are dramatically overrepresented in low-income jobs that are less likely to offer paid leave or family-friendly policies.
Workplaces that choose to offer paid leave and inclusive policies will not only be helping families live healthier, fuller lives and enjoy parenthood, but may also reap benefits for their company too.
Ongoing research shows that happy employees are more productive, perform better overall, and are more likely to remain with a company. These benefits also come at little cost to the company. Studies in California’s paid parental leave program found that workplace improvements cost businesses very little, with 87 percent of businesses surveyed in California reporting no increased costs and 9 percent reporting cost savings due to lower rates of employee turnover or lower spending on employee benefits.
Additionally, this same study reported 90 percent of businesses in California noticed either a positive or neutral effect on productivity and almost all businesses (99 percent) identified positive or neutral effects on employee morale.
By offering paid parental leave, companies can look forward to employees who feel engaged and driven, boost in productivity, and happy, healthy workers. These benefits to both families and businesses can be easily implemented at little to no additional cost to companies, as studies have shown.
In a time when health—both mental and physical—is a top priority, businesses will do well to implement better paid parental leave policies. Cultivating an inclusive workplace culture that values families and health benefits all.
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