Following two years of our personal and professional lives colliding like never before, people have high expectations for workplaces that value their personal priorities. And of course, those priorities differ based on many factors. At Cocoon, we constantly talk to people leaders about the ways (some creative, some consistent across teams and industries) in which they approach employee benefits. Adapting employee leave to fit modern priorities and families is something we hear time and again from the teams we work with.
In today’s business landscape, which has been hugely impacted by a two-year pandemic, the Great Resignation, and a competitive hiring market, making employee leave accessible and easy to manage is a great way for employers to demonstrate empathy and retain talent. Today, parental and disability leaves are table stakes—the most competitive employers are considering leaves that reimagine the modern workplace.
The difference between leave and vacation
One question business leaders may ask when approached about increasing types of leave is, can’t people just use vacation time (PTO)? It’s important to stress that just about any reason someone would take a leave is a life changing one. Even joyful changes, like having a child, come with huge lifestyle adjustments that take time to figure out. Leaves like bereavement, for example, are by definition, very different from a vacation and should be viewed through a different lens.
Giving people dedicated leaves enables them to adjust, grieve, or focus on the huge life change they are undertaking without worrying about the optics (i.e. it looks like they’re out on a weeks-long vacation) or using up valuable PTO which should be used to rest and recharge.
Benchmarking your employee leave policy
Depending on the size of your organization and current leave policies, you may reevaluate leave at different intervals. We asked the people leader of a ~300 person company in the cannabis industry how her team approaches when and why it may be time to reevaluate leaves.
The leader explained how her team may consider adjusting leave policies during an annual review, with a new fundraise, or simply when an idea is brought to the team. Additionally, she said, “Our team reviews feedback from our employee surveys, reviews benchmarks and articles, attends conferences, and reviews our employee population to see what leaves would be most beneficial for them today and in the near future. We also listen to our People Business Partners for trends they're noticing. We may reevaluate our policies as we see unique employee situations arise.”
Employees are involved in the process via survey feedback, and ultimately decisions are made with the people ops team and executive leadership.
A good starting point may be determining what types of leave are common within organizations in your industry and/or that are similar in size.
Top tip: Cocoon’s benchmarking data shows parental and medical leave policies across different funding levels. Understanding how your peers approach leave can ensure your offerings are competitive.
Employee leave beyond parental
As we mentioned, parental leave is table stakes for today’s modern employers.
Here are a few examples of types of leave modern employers are considering and implementing to retain top talent.
Pregnancy loss leave
One leave type we’re hearing about with increasing frequency is bereavement leave specifically for miscarriage. Pregnancy loss has long been shrouded with stigma but can be a very real and heartbreaking experience for expectant parents and one that traditionally, our society has done very little to acknowledge or honor. Depending on how far along the pregnancy was at time of loss, surgery may be required, so physical as well as emotional healing is important to consider when establishing how much time off to give for a miscarriage or pregnancy loss leave.
We’ve had people leaders unfamiliar with military leave ask for additional information around this federally mandated but lesser known leave type. By law, any employee who is called to military service, training, or reserve duty must be provided leave if they are a full-time employee. This isn’t necessarily paid leave, but an employee’s position may be held while they fulfill their military duties.
Mental health or compassionate leave
Some companies are turning to designated mental health leave both to mitigate fraud around medical leave and acknowledge the importance of mental health in the workplace. One of the people leaders we spoke with mentioned that their organization is looking to implement both a four week mental health leave, as well as “compassionate leave” for people experiencing difficult life events such as navigating divorce.
Modern companies are making an effort to make leave more inclusive for people of different backgrounds and at different life stages. For example, consider a “caregiving” leave that can be used to care for one’s children, but also to care for aging parents. Both situations can be stressful, emotional, and time- and energy-consuming, and it’s important to consider the needs of all team members, not just new parents.
Caregiving leave has become especially important throughout the pandemic, as whom someone might need to care for and when can change overnight with isolation restrictions, school cancellations, and serious illness. Because of the unpredictable and demanding nature of the pandemic, employers are increasing what they offer and how they message caregiving leave.
Gender affirmation leave
The people who will best inform what types of leave will be most welcome in your organization are your team members. One of our people leaders is in the process of finalizing leave to provide time off for employees who are transitioning. This can include time off for gender-affirming medical procedures, but also time off to address employees' mental health or legal requirements for finalizing transition.
Employees remember their leave experience
When it comes to modern workplace benefits, it’s no longer enough to offer government-mandated parental leave. The pandemic has caused our personal and professional lives to merge like never before, and people value flexibility and time to prioritize what matters to them most.
All of the leaves we’ve discussed—and there are plenty more important life changes we haven’t mentioned which might also require a leave—are around pivotal life moments. How employers treat people during these moments has a huge impact on how they will feel about your organization. Increasing loyalty and retention while treating team members with empathy and building mutual respect? Sounds like a win-win to us.