B ecoming a parent is arguably one of the greatest gifts known to man (and woman!). Loving our children beyond comprehension is probably the easiest thing we could ever do – because it is so natural, real and blissfully unconditional.

For many though, the days where one of the parents in a family unit (usually the mother) can afford the luxury to stay at home for years to raise the children are long gone. Similarly, the removal of this is far greater for single-parent families, and in many cases is totally non-existent. The two worlds of home and work life have collided, as we balance the pressures of building a formidable career, attaining a level of financial comfort – and most importantly – ensuring a stable and happy family environment.

The obvious truth is that organizations have the ability to enable this balance by the manner in which they support working parents within their business. However, for the most part, companies will only work within the bounds of the guidelines set by legislation to determine exactly the level of support they will provide.

So, a really fair question to ask is: How do employers in the United States support and nurture a balance between parenthood and the realities of our need to work? A great way to answer this question is in fact to look beyond our own borders.

The truth is that the United States is one of the very, very small number of countries that does not provide ‘extensive’ support to new mothers and fathers – both in terms of financial aid, or through the simple gift of time. We are all familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which through its scope extends to provide job-protected, unpaid time off of up to 12 weeks for new mothers who give birth, and also to new parents in the case of adoption.

Whilst a major step forward 20 years ago, almost every developed nation (and even some many would consider under-developed) has surpassed the US when it comes to the base offering of parental leave.

In Australia, mothers and fathers can share up to 52 weeks of legislated unpaid parental leave, with the provision of job protection included. Mothers can even extend this by a further 52 weeks on request. Furthermore, new mothers are concurrently able to access 18 weeks of paid maternity leave at the federal minimum wage – approx. $606 per week (two weeks for fathers). Some organizations extend beyond this minimum as a means to attract and retain talent – the Adecco Group for example, provides nine weeks paid at full salary for mothers (one week for fathers) – in addition to that which is provided for by the Government.

The United Kingdom stipulates a minimum 39 weeks of paid maternity leave, with six of those weeks paid at 90% of full salary. The Czech Republic goes well beyond this by providing paid leave to mothers for up to four years. Yes, I said four years. Even many African nations provide a standard of 14 weeks leave at either half or full salary.

Countless studies have shown that improved parental leave offerings lead to increased productivity and performance – but most crucially, staff retention. Finding talented employees is hard enough on its own, so anything that leads to those people staying with an organization is inherently beneficial.

This isn’t to say that US organizations aren’t going ‘above and beyond’ the basics set by the FMLA, with some financial and accounting institutions offering paid leave of eight, 12 and in some cases 39 weeks. Yahoo reportedly increased their maternity leave offering to 8 weeks for fathers and up to 16 weeks for mothers, plus a $500 payment to go towards items for a new baby. Imagine how mothers in these organizations feel about the employer for whom they work – and the value that is returned to their business, and invariably their customers.

Day care providers might not like this comment very much, but parents really do need more time to spend with their newborns – not only due to the priceless chance to bond with their children, but as much to feel more comfortable about returning to work when a period of leave is over. 12 weeks goes by so quickly. Anything that organizations can do to aid this transition back into the workforce even more, can never be too little.

So with that, we would like to extend our warmest wishes to all Dads, hoping you all had a very Happy Father’s Day. We hope you enjoyed your special day, but always remember to whom the other 364 belong. I can see the smile on Mom’s face right now. 🙂

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