By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
After I received my undergraduate degree, I went to work for an excellent company. I was in a program that allowed participants to rotate through various company departments, so we would get a feel of how the organization operated on a daily basis.
One of the company ambassadors was a person whom I thought of as Suzy Sunshine. She had the widest smile and looked cheerful every day. Suzy was very thorough and had a personality that made anyone in the department feel comfortable.
Also, she was one of the company’s most productive employees and performed her job well. Suzy was an ambassador of good customer service.
Suzy’s Rapid Return from Maternity Leave Affected Her Job Performance
One day, Suzy announced she was pregnant. By her seventh month, she was forced to begin her maternity leave early because her doctor had put her on bed rest.
No one plans those events that drastically change our lives. In Suzy’s case, what started as a happy pregnancy turned into an unfortunate situation when she experienced health issues in her last trimester. Although her employer had a paid maternity leave policy, it was only for six weeks. Suzie had to use some of that leave time before the birth of her child.
Since Suzy started her maternity leave earlier than expected, she faced the choice of returning to work before she was mentally and emotionally prepared for a 40-hour work schedule. Also, she had new responsibilities of caring for a newborn. In addition, her family could not afford to be without her paycheck.
So when Suzy did return to work, she was no longer “Suzy Sunshine.” Her former personality and zeal were gone. She was tired, miserable and ineffective in her job.
We had a situation where a once-productive employee no longer was a stellar performer because she came back to work too soon.
Resolving Workplace Performance Issues Through Paid Parental Leave
Today in half of two-parent families, both parents work full-time. In 40% of those families, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner. Forbes journalist Rita Rubin reports that the United States is one of only two countries without paid parental leave.
The U.S. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. FMLA covers all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
But approximately 40% of workers do not meet its legal requirements and any extra leave is also unpaid. The percentage of employees who qualify for FMLA is even lower for private-sector employers, where the rate decreases to 12%.
Even with these grim statistics, there is still hope. Some organizations have become cognizant of the benefits by helping their employees through life-changing events such as the birth of a child. Recent trends include:
- Some states, such as New York, California, Rhode Island, Ohio and New Jersey, have implemented legislation that provides partial pay while an employee is on parental leave.
- In the spring of 2016, San Francisco passed legislation mandating up to six weeks of fully paid maternity leave.
- Starting in January 2017, American Express will expand its paid parental leave policy for mothers and fathers to 20 weeks at full pay. The banking giant also has added another six to eight weeks for women who require medical leave after giving birth.
- On December 20, Washington, D.C. passed legislation that grants full-time AND part-time employees eight weeks of leave with up to 90% of their salary for birth, adoption or fostering. The bill also includes six weeks of family leave, so employees can take care of a family member and two weeks for a personal medical emergency.
The U.S. is a long way from offering parental leave as generous as the policies offered in countries such as Hungary, Japan and Bulgaria. However, some American firms are making an effort to assist their employees and simultaneously retain their productivity. Let’s help the nation’s Suzy Sunshines go back to work smiling.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.