Tech companies get a lot of credit for being evolved about supporting working parents. Maternity leave has morphed into parental leave to accommodate both sexes. Mark Zuckerberg’s two-month paternity leave is now practically industry standard.
But in the US, the most highly evolved benefit packages now go far beyond this, and big tech firms aren’t the only ones offering them, according to Working Mother’s annual list of the 100 companies with the best benefits. Cutting-edge companies on this front, including Deloitte, IBM, McKinsey, UBS, and Unilever, have delved into the most painful tradeoffs inherent to hard work: kids in need, household management, and family illness. The response includes help for parents whose kids have autism (88% of Working Mother’s top 100 companies offer this type of support), college coaching for teens (63% of the top 100 offer it), letting new moms phase back into work gradually with full pay (70% offer this), and even homework hotlines, which one-quarter of Working Mother’s top 100 offer.
The attentiveness is a windfall for harried workers. “I was my child’s homework hotline!” says Subha Barry, senior vice president & managing director of Working Mother Media, noting how far companies have come in offering new benefits that address working parents’ most pressing needs. The most responsive firms are decidedly unsexy: old tech (IBM, Intel , HP), consulting (Deloitte, McKinsey, Bain), banking (Goldman Sachs, UBS, JPMorgan), and health care (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Baptist Health South Florida).
Working Mother, which has compiled the list for 32 years, picks its best companies based on 400 questions about a range of factors, including leave policies, workforce representation, benefits, childcare, advancement programs, and flexibility policies. Importantly, the study only rewards companies whose employees actually use the policies. (Of course, most countries ensure paid leave, for example, through government policies. The US, Suriname, and Papua New Guinea are the only three that don’t.)
The most competitive companies go deeper, though, focusing on employees’ needs after parental leave, and how to help them stay. More companies are now willing to say, “‘I will pay more, have less in my bottom line, but I will keep employees,'” says Barry.
Highly skilled millennials are driving the change by being more demanding. According to the 2017 Society for Human Resource Management (pdf) survey of benefits, one-third of US companies expanded their benefits in the past year, led by health and wellness benefits, citing the war for talent as the main reason, while only 6% reduced benefits. About 40% of employees are still considering moving jobs, the survey notes, with the top two reasons being pay (56%) and benefits (26%). “This next generation is so courageous and bold, they vote with their feet,” says Barry.
Companies are also developing a more holistic view of family care. While some have offered on-site child care centers, more are supporting parent’s choices, sharing or paying the cost of daily care or helping with backup care (92% of the top 100) during high-pressure periods like school holidays, summer, after hours, and when parents travel. Meanwhile, firms that recognize the pains of starting a family have boosted policies around fertility assistance, surrogacy, and egg freezing.
As firms have gotten better at measuring productivity, they have also grown more comfortable with offering greater flexibility, says Barry. Losing vital talent when the work of childrearing or eldercare overwhelms can prove costly, so they are putting in place the infrastructure to help. Replacing an employee can cost about 20% of an employee’s salary, a figure that rises dramatically (to over 200%) the more specialized the skill set and training. According to Barry, companies have noticed they lose more women after the birth of a second child, for instance, so they craft policies to address that group, rather than just first-time mothers.
It’s worth noting that companies with the best benefits are often the most demanding: McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America offer good benefits because they are competing for top young talent—and often slamming them with grueling hours or relentless travel.
Many other countries extend holistic benefits to more than a lucky (if overworked) few. In the Netherlands, the government pays for women to have a kraamverzorger, a sort of super-doula who comes for eight hours a day for eight days after a woman has given birth, to help new mothers with breastfeeding and bathing the baby to make sure mothers are rested, showered, and themselves well-fed. (Single mothers, mothers who had a tough birth, or those with more children get the kraamverzorger for longer.) In France, you can check your kid into a crèche when they are three months old, allowing women to work while knowing their children are cared for by qualified and regulated caregivers. Sweden, meanwhile, encourages paternity leave through well-funded daddy quotas (paid at 80% of salary).
Until those days come in the US, the best benefits for America’s working parents will come from companies angling to be both supremely enlightened and competitive.