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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Maternity Leave

No, no, not mine (sorry for making you unnecessarily excited, Mom). Maternity leave in general. It's an interesting topic and one that people don't generally like to discuss--because it's a sensitive topic and if you say anything against it you are a woman hating jerk, or just down right evil.

Well, since I'm evil and a woman, I figure it's time to speak up. Well, that and The Naked Economist brought it up first. He writes (after a conversation with his wife):
1. Maternity benefits are expensive. And the more generous the firm in this regard, the more expensive the policy.

2. Even an expensive maternity policy makes perfect sense if it helps to retain valuable employees. But the more often a firm gets "burned" by an employee who accepts generous benefits (beyond what's required by law) and then quits, the less sense the policy makes.

3. The more generous the policy, the more it hurts to get burned.

4. If enough women accept generous maternity benefits but don't ultimately return to work, some rational firms will decide that expansive maternity benefits just don't make financial sense

The end result of this, economically speaking, is that firms will cut back on maternity leave. If every pregnant woman gets the same "benefits" and a large enough number take the benefits and run, firms may consider going back to only the benefits required by law.

Now, for full disclosure, when I was 12 weeks pregnant I told my boss that I was pregnant and that I was most likely not coming back. After the Offspring made her appearance, I took six weeks of disability leave and then resigned. My boss then offered me a part time telecommuting position which I accepted and I am still at that company.

The Naked Economist (Charles Wheelen) makes the following suggestion (again based on his wife's suggestion):
Suppose a firm wants to offer a maternity leave of 6 months at 100 percent salary, rather than the bare minimum of 6 weeks at 60 percent pay. Great. But why not fold those benefits into an employee's paycheck over the year in which he or she comes back to work -- or two years, or whatever? That's what my wife would like to see.

I really like that suggestion. Why not? Yes, there are some obvious problems, mainly that you need the money when you are not working, not when you are working. But it makes more sense than handing out generous benefits without any guarantee that the employee will return.

One of the problems I've always seen with generous maternity leaves is that it makes hiring females of child bearing age much more expensive than other employees. Let's face it, even though men can take FMLA leave for the birth of a new child, I have never known any to take more than a few days. My Brother-in-law's company offered paid paternity leave. He took it, but not consecutively, so he was never out more than two days in a row. You don't have to hire someone to fill in in that type of situation, where you would for a six month leave.

I don't know what the best solution is, but I think that Naked Economist guy has some very good insights. Of course, now I wonder what kind of Google I'm going to get. I have a feeling, some people are going to be disappointed.


SourAaron said...

You hit it on the head. Making the hiring of women taxed by policies that make leave costly to the business unit will result in less hiring of child bearing age women, period (no pun intended).

The road to hell was paved with...

Beth Robinson said...

If my company had offered increased compensation after but nothing during maternity leave I would have left years ago to find another job. Then retention wouldn't be an issue.

I make twice as much as my husband. (R&D vs. clerk) His coworkers qualify for government aid for daycare. Me not bringing in money is not acceptable.

Maybe a blend of the two approaches where I received the minimum during and then the bonus for returning...

By the way - I'm six months pregnant and my husband will be taking most of his three months of FMLA so we can put off putting the baby in daycare. So if our plans work out - then you'll almost know someone. :)

Looking at the bigger picture of the problem, I can definitely see the point and agree that departures encourage companies to give as little maternity leave as they can get away with. Unless they make a deliberate strategic decision to install a different company culture that focuses on the employee that is...

As another idea, I was reading a recent article, Business Week I think, that mentioned a company that kept up a social network with mothers who did leave, tapping into their expertise with consulting fees and interviewing them to hire back when they were ready. If you can encourage returns with generous policies then maybe retentions are less important.

Evil HR Lady said...

Beth--you're right that it isn't a perfect solution. I really do like the companies that do social networking to encourage mother's to return, but they aren't paying those women to not work.

Personally, I think companies that want to retain talented young females would be wise to consider more part time and job sharing situations.

Samantha M. said...

I like Beth's idea of partial during maternity leave, and the bonus upon return. Though I'd take it a step further, and add a stipulation that they must return to work for X months before they get the bonus - otherwise there would be women coming back, working for a week or two and taking the money to run.

I know that I've experienced some bias when it comes to employment. When I was 25, I interviewed for a position and one of the people I interviewed with started asking me about any plans to have children in the future. I can't remember how I answered, but I got the job (probably said that I had no immediate plans).

I think I have a BIT of an easier time than some when it comes to that sort of thing, as I am working full time, attending college and don't wear a wedding ring (because I'm not married). I'm also in my late 20's, which in my area seems to put me in the category of old maid/dedicated career woman. (Little do they know, I want a family, and would like to be able to stay home for possibly the first year after having kids - assuming that I don't lose my mind from not having enough outside stimulus.)

Okay, enough rambling from me.

Anonymous said...

I think that now is a great ability to discuss such questions in some kind of women's information network!