Parent Perks Get Better at Netflix Inc.

This week, Netflix, Inc. announced the introduction of “an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.”  That means parents “can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed” during that first year of parenting. The company already offered unlimited time off to employees under certain circumstances, although tech entrepreneur Sarah Mei, quoted below, notes that the non-parental leave policy does not include as much paid time off.

In the blog announcement, Netflix chief talent officer Tawni Cranz wrote, “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home.”

Delving into compensation as a whole, the Associated Press notes, “Pay at Netflix ranges from about $15 per hour for customer service representatives fielding inquiries from the company's more than 65 million subscribers around the world to more than $200,000 annually for software engineers. Most Netflix employees also receive stock options, which have been producing huge windfalls in the past few years.”

Several news outlets note that the United States is the only developed country that does not have government-mandated maternity or paternity leave, a fact which leaves the country’s largest tech companies coming up with their own benefits packages as a recruitment and retention strategy.

At CNET, Steven Musil runs through comparable benefit packages in Silicon Valley: “At the high end is Twitter, which offers 20 weeks of paid leave to birth mothers,  according to a recent survey by The Atlantic. Google offers biological mothers up to 18 weeks in paid maternity leave, with up to 22 weeks if there are complications. Facebook offers new parents 4 months of paid leave, as well as $4,000 in cash. Apple offers expectant mothers up to 4 weeks of leave prior to delivery and 14 weeks after. Both companies also offer adoption services and subsidize the cost of freezing eggs for female staff, up to $20,000.”

But the fact that there is no legal framework for parental leave leaves some professionals skeptical about the impact of Netflix’s policy. Natt Garun blogs at The Next Web, writing, “It’s hard enough for a woman to find a high level, well-paying job. The idea of an extended absence and letting someone else essentially replace me is a scary thought. What are you supposed to do upon return? Pretend everything is as it was 12 months ago? Until paid parental leave is a mandated policy in America, there is always potential for guilt and fear that your workplace relationship will be strained if you decide to take an extended leave.”

Making similar observations, Slate's L.V. Anderson says, “Netflix has been doing this 'freedom and responsibility' thing for a long time, so it may be capable of making unlimited parental leave a blessing rather than a curse.  But a straightforward and humane directive—e.g., ‘You are required to take five months of paid leave at any point in the first two years of your child's life; go forth and prosper’—would give parents clear boundaries and put them all on equal footing.”

Both Anderson and Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Family and Work Institute, note that recent studies indicate employees at companies with unlimited time off actually take less vacation time than at companies with more rigid vacation policies.

Tech consultant Sarah Mei had some positive things to say about Netflix's move:

As for Netflix’s business impact, investors were more focused on the company’s plans to expand into Japan this September, boosting the stock by more than  7 percent to 121.15 per share, a record high for the company. Netflix stock is beyond 122 per share at pre-market trading.