Few workers have parental leave options. And, among the fortunate ones who do, many don’t feel they can take their leave time. What’s going on here?
Only 14 percent of civilian workers have any paid family leave, according to Pew Research Center. But having leave isn’t the same as being able to take it. Many working parents take less leave than they’re allowed. This is true even though taking some leave after the birth of a child has been found to be of tremendous value for both children and parents.
Here’s what you need to know about why many new parents aren’t taking the time off.
Parental leave matters for families
Being able to take parental leave after the birth of a child really matters for both parents and kids. Still, many aren’t given the option or opportunity to take time away.
Researchers have found that lack of paid parental leave is associated with postpartum depression, delayed immunizations and health visits for babies, and other health problems. It can also lead to devastating economic challenges for families who have no choice but to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
And it’s good for business, too
Parental leave also helps with employee retention and satisfaction. It costs a lot of money to recruit the best employees. Offering competitive leave options helps companies to retain top workers.
most workers don’t have a choice
The United States is the only country among 37 developed nations not to offer paid maternity leave. In many European countries, the offerings are much more generous and standardized.
Although the majority of American voters, both Republican and Democrat, are in favor of improving parental leave policies, things are changing slowly. Most U.S. workers don’t have access to paid family leave as an employee benefit.
Workers who need paid leave the most, lower wage workers and those with less education, tend to have the least amount of access to it. This means that many women have to return to work immediately after childbirth, take unpaid time off, or quit or lose their jobs.
Some industries are worse than others
Workers’ opportunities vary considerably when it comes to paid leave. Some industries are worse than others. Some, like tech, are relatively high-paying and ahead of the curve when it comes to offering paid time away.
Still, many women say they are afraid to use their benefits. In a recent survey, 83 percent of women employed in tech said they felt pressure to return to their job while they were on leave. Thirty-two percent cited a fear of being fired or forced out.
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“Frankly, women are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. We’re worried we’ll be forgotten while we’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind,” Kim Williams, director of experience design at Indeed, told Recode. “Things move so fast in tech, projects move forward and you wonder: Once the team gets used to working without you, will they decide they no longer need you?”
Men also feel the pressure
Although parental leave policies that offer the same amount of time off for women and men are on the rise, a lot of men feel pressure not to take their time.
Cultural norms that say it’s not all right for men to take time away from work to care for newborns are tough to overcome. Less than half of the respondents to a 2016 Deloitte survey said that their organization helps men to feel comfortable taking parental leave. Although 64 percent of workers said that companies should offer men the same amount of time off, more than half felt that colleagues would judge a father who took the same amount of parental leave as a mother.
More companies may be offering paid parental leave options these days, but there is still a long way to go. There also needs to be more focus on helping workers, both male and female, to actually use their time.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you have parental leave options you’re afraid to exercise in full? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.