Companies are offering more paid leave – who is taking it?

The answer is, apparently not very many American workers. As more companies begin to understand that new parents need family leave, and especially paid family leave, the policies are getting better. But is the practice? A recent study by Ernst & Young found that only 37% of parents who had access to leave actually took it. And that was parents who had access to paid leave!

Think about that for a minute – only 12% of American workers have paid leave, and apparently only 37% of those workers are actually taking advantage of the benefit. So who is taking their full maternity or paternity leave? No one.

The obvious question is why? Workers will max out their 401K, they will use sick leave when they have the flu, but they won’t take paid family leave, and often vacation time. This USA Today column suggests the problem is company culture. If your company publicly announces a generous leave policy, say 6 months paid, but you see your coworkers, or worse yet, the boss, returning to work after 6 weeks, you get the message that leave is really only 6 weeks.

Often taking your full leave benefit offered has career consequences in the form of lost promotions, lost raises, being taken off projects and being held back by managers. This column notes one tech company that will not allow annual reviews, and thus raises and promotions, to anyone out more than three months, even though the leave policy offers much more time for new parents.

This is a work culture problem, and a clear indication that while some companies are enjoying the great news coverage and accolades that come with announcing a generous paid leave policy, they are not truly sincere about helping their employees balance work and family.

And as this New York Times article reminds us: “Bad work culture is everyone’s problem, for men just as much as for women. It’s a problem for working parents, not just working mothers. For working children who need time to take care of their own parents, not just working daughters. For anyone who does not have the luxury of a full-time lead parent or caregiver at home.”

So how can we fix this gap between what companies say they are doing to support families, and what is actually happening behind company doors? Many suggest, and List Your Leave agrees, the answer is transparency. If we can pull back the curtain on what actually happens inside of companies around family leave, rather than just look at the latest press releases from companies in the race to win the best paid leave policy, then we can truly understand if family leave is improving in America.

Tools like List Your Leave allow workers to not only report what their company policy is, but how it works in practice. Anonymous reviews of a maternity or paternity leave experience are the only way we will create transparency around how companies help working families balance career and family.