Netflix will offer up to a year of paid leave to new moms and dads.
The policy announcement immediately drew praise and is likely to put pressure on other US technology companies, which compete fiercely over talent, to follow suit. Less clear is whether Netflix will actually be able to encourage its employees to take more time off when they become parents.
Netflix already allows employees to set their own hours and take as much vacation as they need. That’s part of the company’s “freedom and responsibility culture,” which has achieved cult status in Silicon Valley thanks to this widely shared slide deck:
Netflix said its policy will apply to new parents who give birth to a child or adopt one. The company said it was offering “unlimited maternity and paternity leave,” but a blog post made clear that it only applies to the first year after becoming a parent. Tawni Cranz, the company’s head of talent, explained the idea:
We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.
Unlike many European countries, the United States offers only scant protections to new mothers and does not mandate any paid maternity leave. Even among companies that set their own generous policies, the average is seven weeks of paid maternity leave. Paid paternity leave is still considered rare across the world, as this map (pdf, p. 53) illustrates:
Letting new dads take time off can offer many benefits beyond father-child time, as Quartz’s Gwynn Guilford explained last year. Among other things, paternity leave encourages more equitable childcare arrangements and greater representation of women in the workforce. But allowing men to take time off doesn’t mean they will do it, which Sweden and Japan discovered after instituting progressive policies toward paid leave for new parents.
Highly motivated workers at companies like Netflix still may feel pressure to return to work soon after having a child, fearing they may otherwise fall behind coworkers. The trick, as Sweden learned, is to offer policies so generous that people will have to take them.