Will SMEs follow Netflix and offer unlimited paternity leave?

Netflix has announced it will offer unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave in the first year after a child is born or adopted.

In the wake of this announcement, Microsoft and Adobe followed suit announcing unlimited maternity/paternity leave this week, joining companies like Virgin Group and Zynga who have all announced similar policies.

Such generous policies are still a rarity and they have received some criticism for being unworkable. However, whilst I don’t believe that companies outside the competitive tech sphere or who aren’t high profile or large will be following Netflix’s lead any time soon, it is striking that these organisations are finding innovative ways to attract and retain talent rather than relying on salary-based benefits.

Interestingly, when Google increased its paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 in 2007, it was reported that the rate at which new mothers left Google fell by 50 percent.

It makes perfect sense for companies with highly skilled workers in Silicon Valley with competitors just round the corner to do this. Training new people is expensive and staff retention is almost always a better option in such working environments. When salaries are already competitive, work/life balance is an easy way to make a difference, especially when you are talking about a class of motivated employees in very desirable jobs with specific skills that are hard to replace. It’s better to have them some of the time rather than not at all.

Outside Silicon Valley, most companies operate in a very different working environment and it’s unlikely many of them will be able to introduce policies such as extended to unlimited leave on a wider scale.

The administration implications for shared parental leave in the UK are only just beginning to be felt by organisations and they are proving challenging for some companies. Small businesses especially would struggle to manage the impact and potential disruption of unlimited paternity leave – not to mention the cost and the administration.

Many organisations are already overburdened simply by managing absence requests for holidays and staff sickness. They rely on absence requests being emailed to an HR manager, the request being approved and being sent back and then finally input into a spread sheet. This process is time consuming, it costs money and it is not 100 per cent accurate, and this means that some companies aren’t fully measuring the extent of their absence.

However, with Netflix, Adobe and Microsoft trailblazing such generous employee benefits, it isn’t an issue that smaller companies should ignore completely.

Whilst they may never be able to compete in terms of offering such policies, this is a good opportunity for them to review their existing benefits packages and perhaps put in better systems to help administrate HR. This may enable them to offer more attractive policies in areas such as flexible working and maternity or paternity leave in the future.

After all, it seems to be want employees want. A recent YouGov survey in conjunction with recruitment firm Reed found that 28 per cent of workers crave a perfect work-life balance, trumping salary as the most important aspect of working life.

Adrian Lewis, commercial director for Activ Absence