How unlimited will Netflix’s ‘unlimited’ maternity and paternity leave policy be?

Netflix just announced they would offer their employees unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave during the first year of their newborn’s life.
Netflix just announced they would offer their employees unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave during the first year of their newborn’s life. –Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

On Tuesday, Netflix announced an unprecedented “unlimited’’ parental leave policy, applying to both men and women.

In a statement, Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s chief talent officer, said the new policy would allow both moms and dads to take off as much time as necessary during the first year of their newborn’s life while still getting their regular salary.

During that year, parents could return full-time, come back gradually, or take as much time as they need.

“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field,’’ Cranz said in the statement. “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.’’

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As the New York Times reports, this is not complete anomaly for tech companies in Silicon Valley and San Francisco (Netflix is based in northern California). Twitter offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave and 10 weeks of paid paternity leave. Facebook and Google both have progressive policies too, but nobody has done what Netflix is doing. Will it work?

Will parents take the full year off?

Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family, a supporter of increasing parental leave time, wondered if people would feel entitled to this guaranteed paid time off, or if a sense of guilt would set in and they wouldn’t allow themselves to take the full year.

It’s not an unfounded worry. Unlimited vacation policies have been know to incite a “race to the bottom’’ among employees trying to not to seem like the biggest slacker on the team.

“A year is, by U.S. standards, off the Richter scale,’’ Harrington said, as there is no federal policy on paid paternal or maternal leave. He thinks the time people take off will be dependent on what the workplace culture is at Netflix.

“I know what they offer but what does the culture embrace?’’ he said. “What the culture embraces is important to understand.’’

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Harrington mentioned a study that Boston College did in 2014, asking fathers how much time they were given off and how time they actually took.

For new dads who got two, four, or six weeks off, most took the entire time. But the second most common response was that dads took two weeks no matter how much they were given.

Men who didn’t take the full time said they didn’t want to walk back into the office to see piles of things to do on their desks, or they said there was no one at their office who could cover their responsibilities.

Will this be a trend to come?

Harrington admitted that he might be “old school,’’ but said he does not think unlimited paid parental leave will become a common policy.

“I don’t think it will,’’ he said. “Certainly when you talk about larger more mature companies. [But] it’s provocative and gets conversation going.’’

What he does think will continue is the recent trend toward making parental leave more equal for men and women, and giving more time off generally – just maybe not to this extent.

Harrington said that from BC’s paternity study, he learned that many men didn’t need time off during the first six weeks of their newborn’s birth – they needed it once their significant other went back to work. This is something Netflix’s policy will address, as employees can take their time off whenever it is needed.

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“To some degree states and corporations are seeing what’s going on in the rest of the world,’’ Harrington said. “We are seeing that our policies are out of sync. We have seen incredible movement on the front of fathers paid leave, which we think is terrific. We think that’s a trend that is going to continue.’’

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