The Biggest Problem With Companies’ Parental Benefits: Employees Don’t Use Them

March 23, 2016

To keep new parents in the workforce, many companies are offering benefits like extended parental leave and the ability for new parents to work part-time schedules.

Sounds good, right? The problem is a very small percentage of their employees actually use these programs, according to a September 2015 report by McKinsey & Company.

The reason? Employees believe that these programs hurt their position at work, and prevent them from moving up the corporate ladder, according to the study.

The result? Well-intentioned programs that few employees are actually using.

Why people are afraid to use parental programs: They think it’ll hurt their work standing.

In the study, McKinsey found that the vast majority of companies offer programs for new parents, most of which revolve around giving them extended time off. However, the study found that aside from telecommuting, few employees actually use these programs.

For example, 65% of the companies in the study offer extended maternity leave, but only 4% of female employees actually use it. Additionally, 44% of companies offer extended paternity leave, but a mere 1% of men actually use it.

Why? The main reason employees don’t use these programs is because they believe they will hurt their career. When surveyed, 90% of male and female employees agreed that taking extended leave would hurt their standing at work, with more than half said it would hurt their position “a great deal,” according to the study.

A solution: It starts with leadership and ends with hard metrics.

The only way to address this issue is for the C-suite to get serious about fixing it. Specifically, CEOs can make it clear that using those programs will not hurt one’s ability to advance, and even use them themselves.

There needs to be metrics behind those words as well. Companies need to measure the people who take advantage of these programs and compare that to promotion rates. If people who use the program are being promoted at a significantly lower rate, than obviously that needs to change or the program needs to be altered.

Same goes for compensation. Companies should measure the pay increases of people who use these programs, versus people who don’t. If there is a difference, something has to change, or you will continue to see the same problem.

Big picture, it’s great to have programs that allow for parents to spend more time with their children. But, right now the general perception is these programs hurt a person’s ability to get promoted and the size of their pay increase, so using them essentially takes both future earnings and prestige away from the employee.

The only way to combat that perception is through leadership buy-in and metrics that prove that isn’t the case. Otherwise, organizations are going to see more of the same.

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