As a CEO of InfoTrust, I truly enjoy participating in a number of professional organizations and networking groups. So much camaraderie, insight, and value can be drawn from monthly sessions, but there is a consistent feature that gives me pause.
At least once every six months, a member of one of these groups makes some variation of the following statement: “It’s so annoying that so-and-so is about to have a baby. Our team isn’t ready to have the headache of dealing with it!”
While we’re sympathetic—no one likes unanticipated disruption—we think leaders would be better served by seeing parental leave as an opportunity, not a stumbling block. When approached the right way, parental leave can be a strategic leadership development tool that empowers, not only new parents, but also your entire organization.
Below, we’ll outline InfoTrust’s approach to parental leave, share why it works, and explain how a generous parental leave policy can have a positive impact on your entire organization. We hope that our success will inspire other leaders to take a leap of faith and reframe their perspective.
Who We Are and What We Do
During the last five years, we’ve seen InfoTrust grow ten times its size, with a turnover rate in the single digits. We’ve won a variety of cultural awards, including national recognition from Inc., Fortune magazine, and most recently, Ad Age (earning the No. 2 spot on the publication’s Best Places to Work list). And we did all that without a penny of outside capital, which meant that we were working with limited resources.
We had only one resource in abundance: the faith that we were doing the right thing by our people. When you find the right team and treat them well, you will see results. Parental leave is an important part of treating people right. Anyone who’s become a new parent knows the emotional, physical, and financial stress of having or adopting a child. We think it’s important to take care of our people when they need it most.
Our parental leave policy allows any new parent, male or female, to completely disconnect for three months, at their full salary. After that, they have three months to work at a reduced, flexible schedule that allows them to ease back into their schedules—again, at full pay.
As you might imagine, this policy has resonated well with our employees. Lisa was one of the first employees to benefit from it, and she considers the time indispensable: “To have that extra time—three months instead of two weeks—to be able to figure out where you’re going to leave your child and how you’re going to feed your child, that’s huge.”
Chris Vaughan, our Head of Vertical, CPG, & Multi-brand, explained that the policy, “gave me an amazing opportunity to be fully present during the first several months of my daughter’s life, so I was able to begin forming a bond with her from Day #1.” And Amin Shawki, our VP of Client Services, attested, “As a first-time father and living in a city away from family, I cannot express how grateful I am to have the incredible and flexible InfoTrust Parental Leave policy. The first few months with my son were some of the best memories I will carry with me forever.”
Even our clients appreciate the policy. In the words of Mariam Giorgadze of Jackson Hewitt, “Companies shouldn’t underestimate the impact of a proper parental leave policy not only on ‘new parent’ colleagues but also the rest of the organization. Even as a non-parent, working with colleagues, who hop on this wonderful endeavor, becomes more productive and enjoyable, when instead of stressing they can be fully present. It also grows loyalty and dedication to the company across the organization.”
Our policy applies to people at all levels, including senior managers, who sometimes have to be dragged out of work by their ears because they’re so engaged. And guess what? So far they’ve all unplugged. The world didn’t end. Nobody quit. And the team found capacity to cover for them while they were out.
Why? Because parental leave isn’t just good for the parents. It also creates a powerful incentive for leadership development.
With such a clear parental leave policy in place, employees feel empowered to put in their notice early. There’s no bargaining, uncertainty, or compulsion to wait until the last minute to disclose a pregnancy. Instead, employees and teams can start early to create a coverage plan.
In our experience, when employees have ample time to prepare for parental leave, they’re able to develop new systems and processes that become indispensable to the company. As a busy senior team member, it takes a lot of discipline to pull yourself out of the day-to-day operations and create macro-level systems. But when you know you have a hard stop, you’re motivated to do what it takes to build a system to accommodate that leave.
For example, when the head of our product development team returned from parental leave, he found that his systems had worked so beautifully, the team could keep them in place. Now, he’s able to focus on value, not day-to-day minutia. Coming back to a well-oiled system gives you the opportunity to focus on key outcomes.
Spending time away also gives leaders a chance to evaluate what works and which areas need improvement. When one of our senior leaders returned from family leave, he executed a pilot of a major organizational restructuring. It was so successful that he was promoted to a VP position, in charge of the largest organization within our company. These kinds of bigger-picture changes have driven our company forward in major ways.
Meanwhile, parental leave also creates opportunities for other employees. When leaders effectively transition some of their responsibilities to other team members, those members often gain rapid professional growth. As temporary team leads, employees get the opportunity to experience firsthand what it’s like to be a manager. Subsequently, almost all of them have applied to (and been promoted to) management positions.
Parental leave doesn’t have to mean chaos, overwork, and missed opportunities. In fact, the opposite is true! We’ve found that parental leave creates much-needed space for perspective, growth, and exemplary leadership.
At the time we implemented our parental leave policy, our revenue was only $2-2.5 million per year, with very low profitability. We were reinvesting everything into growth, and it wasn’t immediately clear that our policy would “pay off.” But we followed through anyway because we knew it was the right thing to do, ethically.
It also turned out to be the right thing to do financially. When our employees take parental leave, we don’t hire someone to replace them. We temporarily promote others as team leaders, and we reconfigure our processes to ensure that we can effectively manage everyone’s capacity. That means our bottom line doesn’t change. It takes very little additional money to give employees such a significant benefit. It simply takes more planning and forecasting to make sure we’re covering all our bases.
Conversely, when companies cut corners on benefits like parental leave, they risk losing employees. One of the reasons Lisa was drawn to InfoTrust was because her former employer offered minimal parental leave. She knew that when she became a new parent, she would want more time with her baby to figure out care, feeding, and other essential elements of being a new parent.
We’ve found that our parental leave policy not only helps with employee retention and recruiting, but it also boosts our employees’ productivity. How a company treats its employees, ethically, is much more intertwined with that company’s finances than many leaders consider. People are more inclined to give a company their all when they feel like the company is willing to give back.
Imagine how many companies think they’re saving money by putting tight limitations on parental leave, when in fact, they’re incurring a huge set of invisible costs. When talented employees leave to seek a job with better benefits, organizations are saddled with the acquisition cost of hiring, a loss of time, and a burden on productivity. In the long-run, a more generous parental leave policy could probably save them money.
Doing Good Can Be Good Business
Instead of grumbling about employees’ parental leave, reframe the possibilities. Remember that doing good can be good business. But it has to start with you, as a business owner. You must have faith that treating your employees well will pay off—and trust us, it will.
Even a small business with very limited resources can offer comprehensive parental leave benefits and have amazing results. In the last five years, we’ve had twelve people take advantage of our family leave. Not once have we had someone take advantage of our organization. Not once have we had an employee take their leave unprepared.
When your organization’s culture is strong and your people are treated as responsible adults, they own it. They make plans, they create coverage, and they come back to the organization ready to step up even more.