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When I think back to the days of bringing home my infants, I remember the challenges a new bundle of joy brought with it. Taking leave from work, recovering, sleepless nights, and wondering how I would make it all work. When I had my children (now in their mid-20’s), I was working at a large New York bank. I could take partially paid time off for only 6 weeks – essentially my disability period! I loved my job, but I wished I had more time to bond with my kids before returning to the hustle and bustle of juggling work and family life.

My story may sound familiar to many of you. Over the last twenty plus years, a lot has changed. Many companies, large and small, now see the importance of work-life flexibility and offer family-friendly policies to support team members. But, we can do better.

New parents working in the United States need more access to paid leave benefits. The US is the only industrialized nation without a legal right to paid family leave following birth or adoption. Only about 12% of Americans are offered any paid parental leave through their employer.

Disappointingly, the numbers in North Carolina follow the national trend. About 1.46 million people in our state’s private companies do not have access to paid leave when they become a new parent. That’s around 11% of private-sector workers in NC.

One in eight mothers return to work just two weeks or less after giving birth. And, more than 75% of new mothers are back to work in nine weeks or less. Unfortunately, this is despite evidence that shows extending paid leave is beneficial to parents, children and employers.

As the leader of the Human Resources division at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), I knew that expanding our paid parental leave was the right thing to do – and so did our entire leadership team. Our beliefs were underscored by one of our team members, Emily Swartzlander – who submitted a proposal after returning from maternity leave. Of course, we had questions, including: how much would it cost the company, and what mattered to our workforce? Through our research and analysis, we knew that extending paid parental leave to 12 weeks made good business sense.

 

 

The benefits of extending paid parental leave

Reports show there is a link between paid leave, employee retention and, most importantly, the health of parents and their children. Is your company just starting to consider and explore extending paid parental leave? Here are some of the facts I’ve learned.

For your company

Taking care of your team members by offering more paid family leave helps your company:

  1. Attract and retain top talent. 69% of full-time employees believe that paid parental leave is important when looking for a job.
  2. Reduce turnover rates, lowering your financial
    • The median cost of replacing an employee is 21% of that team member’s salary. Paid leave increases the probability that new moms return to their careers, saving the employer the expense of recruiting and training newcomers.
    • Eighty-seven percent of businesses in California, where a statewide paid leave program was recently created, had no added costs. Nine percent saw cost savings by reducing employee churn.
  3. Foster a more engaged, productive and loyal staff. Reports show that women who have access to paid leave work two to three hours more per week after returning to work.
  4. Save on health care costs. Making an investment in your staff may result in lowering your team members’ health care costs.

For the parent

Longer paid parental leave programs give parents time to take three essential steps:

  • Build a stronger connection with their child;
  • Give the care newborns need;
  • and adjust to life with their new family.

Mothers have a lower risk of postpartum anxiety and depression when they have access to paid leave. And those who breastfeed have a lower long-term risk for breast cancer and diabetes. By giving more time to bond with their newborns and better family-friendly benefits, you help improve the health and well-being of your working parents. At BCBSNC, we have a time of transition (TOT) program. When new parents return to work, they can enroll their baby full-time at our on-site child care center. The TOT program makes it easy for moms to see their babies throughout the day. This way, moms can continue breast feeding. Ultimately, it makes the transition back to work life a little more seamless.

 

For the baby

One additional month of paid family leave is linked with a 13% drop in infant deaths. And, children whose fathers take paternity leave score higher on cognitive tests when they are older. Stronger parental leave policies also help newborn babies experience: 

 

 

Taking care of our BCBSNC family

During my time at BCBSNC, I’ve been proud of how progressive we are. We’re now one of a few companies in North Carolina to offer twelve weeks of paid leave for mothers, fathers and newly adoptive parents. Our new Parental Benefit policy recognizes that all parents play a part in caring for their expanding families, giving equal time for all new parents.

I’m thankful to see large, global powerhouses like Ikea and American Express offering generous family leave policies and benefits. They make me hopeful that other companies will follow suit in the near future.

Investing in your team members and their families lowers health care costs, improves employee retention, and increases productivity. It also allows parents time to bond with their new babies and take care of themselves. Above all, it’s the right thing to do.

Fara Palumbo

About Fara Palumbo

Fara Palumbo is the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, ensuring that the company’s more than 4,700 employees are equipped to support and achieve strategic business goals. She has been with the company for 18 years, with increasing responsibility for human resources services supporting business performance, including talent acquisition, organizational design and development, change management, learning and development, and total rewards.