My Attempt (as a Single Male With No Kids) to Create a Better Maternity Leave Policy
Anyone reading this probably knows I like to challenge the status quo. I mean, I started a whole company around it. Our motto at VIP Crowd is “always be curious.” This goes beyond just finding new products and services or starting companies. It’s an approach I use for everything I do.
About eight or nine months ago, I was faced with a new challenge – determining what our company policy would be for maternity leave. I’m no HR expert. I’m not even sure if maternity leave is the proper term anymore. I apologize if it isn’t, but that’s what I’m going to use during this post.
We had just hired Alexa, who was employee number four. She’s someone I worked with at TermSync, and I knew she’d bring a lot to the team. She also was three months pregnant… Time to figure out the company policy for maternity leave.
I never had anyone on maternity leave in the early days at my last company. And I’m a single guy with no kids, so it was pretty new to me. I’m not an idiot (debatable). I knew some basics, but I was pretty clueless. Time to do some research. My first thought – I’ll just see what everyone else does and do that.
Traditional Maternity Leave Policies Are….Not Great
The problem is what most other companies do (at least in the US) sucks. You need to allow for 12 weeks off, but it doesn’t have to be paid. The US is one of four countries who don’t have paid leave.
Most companies utilize short term disability which is six weeks partially paid. Then, you can use up your vacation. A lot of companies also offer an additional 2-3 weeks of paid leave which is nice but not great. Side story to that, many that do offer 2-3 weeks have those weeks eat into the six weeks of short term disability. That’s stupid. Why not add it to the short term disability? Maybe there is some legal reason for it that I’m not aware of? Either way, I thought I could find a better way.
There are some amazing companies that offer tremendous policies. Most of those are huge companies that can afford to do so. As a four person startup, I wanted something that was better than what traditional companies offer, but also was realistic for our bottomline.
VIP Crowd’s Maternity Leave Policy
Here’s what I came up with:
- A gradual approach where the team member slowly works her way back up to being 100% full time after six months (I say “her” because we’ve yet to have any paternal leave needed, but I’m aware we need to make decisions what our policy will be there.)
- 100% paid during the whole six months
- Option to choose the more traditional policy (three weeks paid plus short term disability)
Gradual Return to Full Time
Breaking news here – I’ve never given birth to a child. I’ve never spent all hours with said child during the first few months and then, like running over a cliff, was faced with having to go back to work full time after 12 weeks. I’ve never done that, but it seems odd to me that going from zero hours a week at your job to full time right away is the norm.
It probably makes you question if you will go back at all. It’s surely not the only reason some people don’t go back. But this extreme shock to your schedule has to factor into it.
So I devised a schedule with Alexa to have her slowly work her way back up to full time at six months. We agreed she’d start work again after week six…..wait….don’t kill me in the comments yet. Those first few weeks were very minimal, at home, with no expectations. Here’s the schedule we came up with.
- Weeks 1 – 6: Zero time spent on stuff for “work”
- Weeks 7 – 8: Roughly one hour per week. No expectations of her to produce any output other than getting caught up on what’s going on. We all have a daily update in Slack where we write anything interesting we’re working on. If it takes you more than two minutes to write, you’re doing it wrong. (Future blog post on that.) She essentially reads those, and I called or texted with a few things I wanted to update her on.
- Weeks 8 – 9: Roughly 5 hours per week. She chooses when. Small projects. She’s our Creative Director, so this was creating a flyer or updating a section of the website. Stuff that is definitely a big help that she can take care of but also nothing that is going to hurt us if something comes up and she can’t get it done.
- Weeks 10 – 12: Roughly 10 hours per week. She chooses when. More small projects and starting to get back into bigger items.
- Weeks 13 – 20: Roughly 20 hours per week. She chooses when. The same work she’d do if she were full time just half as much.
- Weeks 21 – 26: Roughly 30 hours per week. She chooses when. The same work she’d do if she were full time just 75% as much.
- Weeks 27 and beyond (six months for those not great at weeks): Back to full time
100% Paid for the Whole Six Months
This is the one where most employers will say it’s not possible to offer such a policy. At my last company, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to. Actually, that might not be true. I would have thought I couldn’t afford it, but when you run the numbers is not too bad.
Our policy ended up costing us about 26% more of her annual salary than if we had done a traditional policy. If someone makes $50,000, that’s about $13,000 or $26,000 for someone who makes $100,000.
That’s real money. Tough to justify. There’s no question our policy builds employee loyalty. (Although I already have that from Alexa since she appreciates her great boss!) Unfortunately, that improved loyalty is tough to quantify so I didn’t even try.
The one thing that I can quantify is the cost of replacing her if she decides not to come back. Again, this policy won’t eliminate people from choosing to not come back, and I would never question a mother’s (or father’s) decision to stay at home to raise their family. That being said, I strongly believe a team member is more likely to come back full time with this gradual approach. If I had to replace Alexa, there’d be costs associated with that. A recruiter would take 20-25%. I probably wouldn’t use a recruiter, but the time and effort to find someone and train them would be large. I believe this alone covers the cost.
The real reason this works, though, isn’t the money. It comes down to it being the right thing to do. It sounds a little cheesy, but I consider all of our team members family, especially someone like Alexa who has been with me at two companies. It feels good to offer a policy where she didn’t have to think about how to cover reduced income that comes with a traditional maternity leave. She had a few other more important things to focus on…new baby and all.
- Daycare – Especially during those early weeks, I don’t care if she gets her work done while her son is napping, at daycare, at night when her husband is home, or whatever works for her. That’s her decision, though. As long as she gets her work done, it’s none of my business. As the “work” time increases (week 13), my guess is it’s harder to get things done without daycare, but again – I don’t care as long as she gets her work done.
- Daycare costs – Many people have brought up that most daycares make you pay for full time even if you only utilize it for 20 or 30 hours a week (weeks 13 – 24 with our policy). Those are weeks where with a traditional policy, she’d be paying for full time daycare anyway because she’d be at work full time. If she chooses a daycare that forces her to pay 100% but she only takes him there 50% or 75% of the time, she’s not losing any money since we’re paying her full salary.
- We’re a remote team – We have an advantage because our team is 100% remote. It makes it easier, but I don’t think it’s an excuse for most other companies. There are very few “office jobs” these days that you can’t get the same amount or more work done from home. It’s not rocket science. You can figure out something that works, especially for just a few months.
- It’s not for everyone – If for some reason a team member wants to take a traditional maternity leave, I’m cool with that. Or maybe we’ll come up with something else. That gets more challenging with bigger companies, but it wouldn’t be too difficult for any size company to offer a few options to choose from.
- Alexa’s thoughts on her maternity leave – She’ll be posting at least one or maybe more posts about her thoughts on the whole process. My guess is that post will be much more interesting than this one! Stay tuned.