Unlimited parental leave puts more pressure on parents

Netflix’s new policy on maternity and paternity leave should be an interesting exercise. If you give people the job of deciding how much leave they should take, will they take more than they are taking now?

Netflix posted on its employee blog yesterday that it’s up to their “talent” to decide.

We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.

Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.

The move could pressure other tech companies to be a little more “talent friendly,” the Wall St. Journal says.

The company already allows its workers to take unlimited vacation.

How will other employees react if a colleague simply says, “see ya!”?

“Unlimited paid vacation, unlimited paid parental leave looks like a recipe for confused, resentful, and stressed-out employees,” Slate associate editor L.V. Anderson writes today.

And a one-size-fits-all policy of giving parents paid leave immediately after birth isn’t necessarily the way to go: Some parents would rather take more time off when their kids are a little older. But a straightforward and humane directive—e.g., “You are required to take five months of paid leave at any point in the first two years of your child’s life; go forth and prosper”—would give parents clear boundaries and put them all on equal footing.

I don’t have kids, but if I ever do, I don’t want to be vulnerable to judgment and resentment because of my choices about maternity leave—I’d much rather know exactly how much paid time off I (and all my colleagues) are entitled to.

To be sure, Netflix should be celebrated for being firmly on the right side of this issue. Too few working parents in America get any paid leave at all, which is a problem that only lawmakers can fix. In the meantime, though, well-meaning companies should be figuring out how much time new moms and dads should take off, rather than burdening parents with yet another tough decision.

“What are you supposed to do upon return?” tech writer Natt Garun writes. “Pretend everything is as it was 12 months ago?”

Giving your child a healthy upbringing is equally important as work, but it’s a tough balance when work is what you need to provide for your kids. Being allowed to jump to and back from work for extended periods is a neat idea, but I wonder how productive that is in a real life team setting, or with a young family.

Until paid parental leave is a mandated policy in America, there is always potential for guilt and fear that your workplace relationship will be strained if you decide to take an extended leave.