It’s great to see companies like Netflix getting more generous with maternity and paternity leave. But credit is really due to the people for whom these new policies are intended.
American millennials, famous for their progressive attitudes and strong sense of entitlement, look to be forcing the hand of US employers in competitive sectors like technology to vie for their talent and retention—in ways that previous generations never would have even thought to ask for. (Who knew an American company would ever provide parental leave on a scale anywhere close to what’s offered in Sweden?)
But these new moms and dads need to move quickly if they want workplace policies that will serve them well during subsequent stages of parenthood. As experienced working parents know, the work-life balance questions that preoccupy us early on—How much leave am I allowed to take? How much leave can I afford to take? How can I just kiss that sweet baby and go off to work when the leave ends?—seem quaint compared with what follows.
For a dozen years or more, parents might worry about things like access to affordable childcare, conflicts between work and school events, and the sheer relentlessness of the five-nights-a-week scramble to get everyone home, fed, cleaned, and ready for the next day, with the homework done, the lunchbox packed, and a bedtime that wouldn’t be completely embarrassing to report to the pediatrician.
At the moment, American companies do very little to assist their employees with any of this. Maybe the millennials can change that. Their Gen-X elders—at least those who still have some years of childrearing to go—will be counting on them.