Why maternity leave benefits should be important to your business

Maternity leave is an important company benefit that many employers fail to fully appreciate. Offering maternity benefits for your employees as a startup will help you establish your position as a family-friendly company from the very beginning. Though many entrepreneurs cringe at the expense and complications of providing maternity leave to their female employees, there are several compelling reasons to do so.

Understanding the importance of maternity leave will help you structure a benefits program that treats your employees well. Providing compelling perks for parents from the earliest stages of your startup will help you draw top talent who appreciates your support for the complexities of the work-family balance.

Companies with good maternity leave benefits immediately distinguish themselves as desirable places for employees who want to achieve that delicate balance between work and home life. Maternity leave benefits will make your startup more desirable to top talent, and help you retain the employees that you have. Learn more about how maternity benefits work, what your options are, and the benefits that you can hope to reap when you incorporate maternity and parental benefits into your startup.

The U.S. maternity leave policy

If you’re establishing employee benefits for the first time as a startup, it’s important to consider essentials like maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates certain minimums in regard to maternity leave. This applies to public agencies and private sector employers with 50 or more employees who worked at least 20 work-weeks during the current or prior calendar year.

As a startup, FMLA may not yet apply to your business. However, choosing to act in compliance with these laws will prepare you for the future. If you offer your employees all the benefits that they would get with a larger company, you may find that you’re more successful at drawing top talent to your company and away from industry behemoths.

Maternity leave in other countries

Maternity leave is widely accepted as a standard offering in countries around the world. The United States is one of only a handful that lag behind in this area. Of the 193 countries in the United Nations, the United States is isolated with just seven other countries including New Guinea, Suriname, and a few South Pacific island nations in its lack of national maternity leave.

While 82 of the United Nations’ countries offer less than 14 weeks of maternal leave, 53 offer between 14 and 26 weeks, 17 provide 26 to 52 weeks, and a stunning 33 countries provide their employees with 52 weeks or more of maternity leave. If you hope to see your startup grow into a global business, providing maternity leave benefits that hold up to global standards is one way you can immediately stand out from the crowd.

Health benefits of maternity leave

Providing good maternity leave benefits for your employees will improve the health of both mothers and their children. Studies have evidenced a link between paid maternity leave and lower infant mortality by as much as 10 percent. Women with paid maternity leave are also more likely to have their children properly vaccinated. The Economic Journal published a study that revealed that children were 25.3 percent more likely to get measles vaccines and 22.2 percent more likely to have their polio vaccines when their mothers had this type of leave available.

Women with adequate maternity leave are more likely to breast-feed, which is beneficial both to the infant and the mother. The growing availability of nursing rooms in coworking offices like the Congress Avenue WeWork office in Austin is evidence of increasing public awareness of the challenge and importance of breast-feeding. However, nursing at work is only a pale substitute for the intimacy and bonding that’s available when mothers have maternity leave at home with their children. Support healthy families all-around by including maternity leave as a core benefit available for those working at your startup.

Improved mental health for mothers with maternity leave

Providing maternity leave, even as a startup, can have a significant impact on the mental health of your employees, both in the short and long term. One study found that women who take more than 12 weeks of maternity leave have fewer depressive symptoms following the births of their children. Another study indicated the biggest leap in maternity leave benefits takes place between 8 and 12 weeks. Offering that extra month can minimize depressive symptoms significantly. This connection extends over time. Even 30 years later, women who had better maternity leave exhibited fewer cases of depression.

Monetary matters behind maternity leave

Finance-minded entrepreneurs often see maternity leave as an expense rather than a money-saving measure. It’s true that there are costs associated with maternity leave benefits. These include the expense of hiring and training a temp to fill a vacant position and the expense of covering benefits for the worker on leave.

However, the actual salary of the worker on leave is not necessarily the expense that many companies believe it to be. Many states are now implementing payroll deduction programs that essentially allow employees to pay for their own parental leave. Family leave in New Jersey is financed 100 percent with these deductions. This program offers wages that are two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly earnings up to $595. California operates a similar program that offers an average of 55 percent of the employee’s wages, up to $1,067 a week.

The few expenses that a company does incur in association with maternity leave are typically offset by the financial perks of having this benefit available. Consider the cost of losing your valued employees entirely. As a startup, losing even one dedicated member of the team can level a serious blow to your productivity. Replacing that employee requires onboarding, training, and an adjustment period. Your new hire may provide less productivity, knowledge, or talent.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research in California found that most business owners reported little to no detrimental impact on performance and productivity when they provided maternity leave to their workers. There were no negative effects on productivity for 89 percent of the businesses surveyed. Ninety-three percent reported no negative impact on turnover, and 99 percent said that these programs created a positive neutral impact on morale.

Staying competitive as a startup

Startups face a lot of competition, both from other newly formed businesses and from the standard behemoths in their industries. Competition for talent is stiff in many industries, particularly the tech space. If you’re hoping to build a company that compares favorably to the big names in business, you’ll need to prioritize family benefits.

Netflix made waves when it upped the ante with its parental leave program. The company gives both moms and dads as much time off as they need after the birth or adoption of a child. Adobe offers 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. Apple provides up to four weeks before the birth of a child and 14 weeks after. Facebook and Instagram provide 16 weeks of paid maternity leave as well as perks like $4,000 in baby cash.

Amazon structures its parental leave in a unique way that allows partners to share leave if the partner’s company doesn’t offer a paid leave program of its own. Mothers at Amazon get up to 20 weeks of paid leave. However, if they want to give some of this to a partner working at another company, they can transfer the value of the unused weeks of leave to this family member. This will cover the lost income from another parent staying home, though actually allowing leave from the partner’s place of work is up to the discretion of the other company.

Tech isn’t the only space that’s showing its high regard for women. The Iron Workers Union gives female employees six months of paid maternity leave. The majority of this is structured to take place before the birth of the child, so expectant mothers don’t have to suffer the strain of this highly physical job. The mothers are also given six to eight weeks of leave after delivery for recovery.

Structuring a generous maternity leave program for your startup will help you create a workspace that’s highly desirable for young job seekers. You can draw fresh graduates as well as top talent with a well-rounded program that shows your support for families and the hardworking mothers who are behind them.

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