California, which adopted the most generous paid family leave policy of any state last year, made some enhancements to labor laws this year, offering caregivers even more generous benefits.
Most notably, the Kin Care Act was amended to allow employees to take “kin care” leave to care for themselves, grandparents, grandchildren, or siblings, and now allows employees to take time off for doctor’s appointments related to diagnosis and preventative care, not just illness. Additionally, the Family School Partnership Act was expanded, permitting caregivers time off to find, enroll, or re-enroll children in a school or day care, or to address school or child care emergencies.
If this sounds like every working parent’s dream, it might be. But it’s not without challenges for HR directors and managers, who must maintain overall company morale and make sure the work gets done, while parents and caregivers take advantage of new benefits that provide opportunities for a better work/life balance.
Preparing for Change
With family leave a hot button topic in the 2016 presidential election, smart HR directors will prepare for nationwide changes in policies – not just to keep pace with California, but to meet employee expectations for family-friendly policies nationwide.
“We proactively updated our policies almost two years ago to make sure we were taking care of our employees both in and out of the very progressive state of California,” says Liz Santamaria, Manager in the Human Resources and Administration Departments at Gurtin Fixed Income Management, LLC. “Although we’ve crossed the 50-employee mark now, we were a 30-employee firm competing against much larger firms at the time that we made the changes, and our decision to formally offer both paid parental leave and extended paid parental disability leave was certainly progressive for a firm of that size at the time.”
Companies should research state and federal requirements, and decide if they want to meet government requirements or go beyond what’s mandated, advises Santamaria. “Then, do a market survey of companies similar in size and industry to see what benefits they’re offering,” she says.
Maintain Company Morale with Benefits and Perks
If you decide to offer more progressive policies, it’s important not to forget employees who have no cause to use extended maternity leave benefits or family leave. After all, some employees already resent filling in for co-workers when they have to leave early, stay late or take extra time off due to family obligations. That won’t change — and may become worse — if paid time off becomes part of company policy.
“A good leader should recognize what’s important to each member in the team, and use that to drive motivation,” says Patrick O’Keefe, Executive Vice President of ManageStaff, Inc., a Tempe, Arizona-based HR administrative service provider.
He suggests offering customized perks, which could include PTO for things that are important to employees. “Get creative,” he says. “If you have an employee who enjoys travel, you may offer them two extra days tacked on to their next vacation, a free night stay at a hotel, or even a Visa gift card.”
Consider expanding other benefits that may appeal to a broad cross-section of employees. “Companies can demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting employee development by offering continuing education, health and wellness, and training and developmental options,” says Santamaria.
“PTO and other perks are drops in the bucket compared to the cost of hiring a new employee,” adds O’Keefe. “But they go a long way in showing employees that you understand their needs and they are not forgotten.”
Make Maternity Leave More Meaningful
When an employee takes time off for extended maternity or paternity leave, inspire co-workers to step up by evoking empathy for the employee on leave. “Place a photo of the baby on the conference room whiteboard or the co-workers desk to help the team see and understand what their extra hard work is for,” says O’Keefe.
Prepare Staff Properly
However, all the cute baby photos in the world won’t help if the team feels lost and confused in their co-worker’s absence. O’Keefe recommends a team meeting to talk about the new workload, strategize, and insure employees have all the tools, training and support they need. “Be open and attentive, and they will feel included in the decision making, rather than dumped with 50 new tasks to complete and no hope in sight,” he says.
Focus On Company Culture
Take heart. Whatever the future brings for paid leave policies, the transition can go smoothly if you maintain a strong company culture. “As long as there is a strong sense of community within a company, most employees will look forward to these newly available benefits, rather than feeling resentment,” concludes Santamaria.
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