People in the US are living longer and retiring later, a pattern that’s created a workforce more multigenerational than ever before. This is happening at the same time employers are adding and expanding parental leave to provide more time away to more parents, sometimes with pay. And since the beginning of 2022, Fannie Mae, Booking.com, and SentinelOne are among the companies adding a new perk to their family policies: grandparent leave.
The policy, as it goes, gives paid time off to employees at the birth or adoption of a grandchild. And given the growing number of grandparents in the workforce, plus the ballooning cost of childcare, workers are excited about what’s come to be called grandternity leave.
For some companies, expanding parental leave has become an opportunity to include grandparents in family care policies. This was the case at cybersecurity firm SentinelOne as it revisited its family leave policy during the early pandemic. “Grandparents do so much,” says Divya Ghatak, the company’s chief people officer. “The workforce is changing, people are working longer, and they are still in the workforce when they have grandkids. It’s not a huge part of our workforce, but it is a key part of our workforce.”
There aren’t a lot of grandparents in SenintelOne’s workforce—just five by Ghatak’s estimation—but quantity wasn’t her concern. “It sent a really powerful message to the rest of the employee population that we are not just taking care of one constituent. If you’re a small constituent of the workforce, it doesn’t mean that we will not think about you or we won’t be holistic in our approach,” she adds.
Cinthia Shields, who works at SentinelOne, took grandparent leave for the first time last year. When her daughter Krystal needed an emergency C-section three weeks early, Shields jumped on the first plane that would take her from Colorado to Arizona. While the newborn twins spent three and a half weeks in the NICU, Shields looked after her older grandchild, who was a year old at the time. “It was me and my number-one, Kora. We spent quite a bit of time together as mommy and daddy were in the NICU,” she says
If grandparent leave hadn’t been available, the alternative would have been very expensive childcare for Kora, running about $200 per day. “[Krystal] would have done it if I did not come down there,” Shields explained. “There was no other option.”
In the US, two-thirds of children under age six live in working-parent households (meaning in a two-parent home, both parents work; it’s one in the case of a single-parent home). A recent survey of childcare costs by Care.com found that in 2023, families spend on average 27% of their household income on childcare, and that 42% of parents lean on family members for some or all childcare arrangements. And this year, the US Department of Labor declared the cost of childcare “untenable” for families.
Not only is the workforce getting older, so is the overall population—both in the US and around the world. Healthcare and living conditions are giving us longer lives than ever. That means some generations will know not only their grandchildren, but also their great-grandchildren.
“Whereas in the not-too-distant past at most four or five generations of people coexisted at any given moment in time, now we have eight inhabiting the planet simultaneously,” writes Mauro F. Guillén in his new book The Perennials: The Megatrends Creating a Postgenerational Society. There are eight generations living in the United States, and “as longevity continues to soar, nine or ten generations may end up living together before midcentury.” The need for multigenerational family care is likely to grow, especially because many grandparents are already handling both work and care. According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 7 million grandparents living with grandchildren who are under age 18, and about half of those grandparents are in the workforce.
Though not all companies offer an explicit benefit for grandparent leave, others afford flexibility enough to take time away. Amy O’Donnell is a recently retired lecturer on career development who spent 19 years teaching at the University of Toledo. Though she didn’t take leave when her granddaughter was born, O’Donnell did rearrange her schedule so she could take care of Lyla every Friday. “This is our effort to help out with convenience, with expenses, and also the satisfaction of being able to have that impression on our granddaughter,” she says.
As for grandparent leave, she’s confident it would have been made available at her job. When O’Donnell needed to take care of her mother in 2016, she taught her classes online, a change that the school supported. To O’Donnell, trust is required. “If you’ve got a high performer and that’s always been their way, why wouldn’t you make it easier for them and for their family to have the confidence that they can take care of things at home?” she says.
Shields is sold on SentinelOne’s formal policy. It made her confident approaching her manager and HR with the last-minute request. “Grandparent leave is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen any company ever give us,” she says. “Not losing the money and then having the flexibility of taking grandparent leave and then coupling it with vacation, it worked out really well.”