The Case For More Paid Leave — And How To Improve Your Company’s Policy

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By Samantha Samel

READ MORE: Maternity leave, HR.com, Paid leave, Parental leave, Paternity leave, Company culture, Work-life balance, Leadership, New moms, Working dads, Working moms

Beth Webster, EVP of Human Resources at TD Bank, has a simple philosophy that motivates her work: “Employee engagement drives everything.” In fact, this line of thinking is what drew her to TD Bank, where she began working in 2015. “[At TD Bank] we are committed to providing legendary service for our customers, and in order to do that, we need to have employees who are fully engaged and feel committed and valued,” she told Fairygodboss in a recent interview.

This is why, she explained, it was pretty easy to convince leaders at the bank to implement some major improvements to the company’s parental leave policy, which now offers all employees — both men and women, and both full- and part-time workers (as long as they work at least 20 hours per week and as long as they’ve been with TD Bank for a year) — 16 paid weeks.

“We looked around to see what other organizations were doing,” Webster recalled. “Then I started to talk to my boss, the CEO, and started having conversations with the management committee that heads of all of our businesses and control functions — and I really have to tell you, it wasn't very hard. They got it.

“We’re trying to make it easier for employees to manage their lives along with their careers,” Webster continued. “We want employees to have equal access to a great career and a wonderful family life. If we were really going to be able to say we want people to bring their whole selves to work, we had to [improve our leave policy.]”

Like TD Bank, some employers might embrace the idea of improving their parental leave policy — but others will not, and there’s no doubt that any company considering these kinds of changes will be wary of costs.

Fairygodboss was lucky enough to have Webster talk us through TD Bank’s process and provide some insight that will help any individual or company who’s trying to expand their maternity leave policy:

1. Talk to employees to get an understanding of what they want. When updating any kind of benefit or policy, it’s crucial to have a sense of what employees want and need; there’s no point in blindly drafting policies that might not be effective or appropriate for the individuals who will take advantage of them.

“We spend a lot of time talking to our employees,” Webster said. “We do an employee survey and we understand what is important to them. We work holistically to try to meet as many of those needs as we can.”

2. Focus on overall company culture. Parental leave is an important and even game-changing aspect of any parent’s work experience, and it feeds into the larger scope of overall company culture. Developing a framework of inclusiveness and support is key in order to begin improving more specific benefits like a maternity leave policy.

“We strive to be very inclusive; that is the culture of TD Bank,” said Webster. That’s why when she began working toward amending the company’s leave policy, her ideas didn’t seem like they were coming out of left field. “It wasn’t like I was coming in and giving them a whole new way of thinking about things,” she said.

Moreover, it’s important to be consistent in your mission and messaging. If your company touts the fact that it treats people well, then it needs to follow through on that promise — not only to outsiders but to employees as well. Webster explained what this looks like in the context of her company, whose slogan is “America’s most convenient bank.” Since TD Bank prides itself on providing legendary service and making significant contributions to communities, it’s essential that the company develops internal policies that are in line with this messaging.

3. Know that the benefits outweigh the costs. Having a generous parental leave policy is expensive. Webster recognizes that this is probably one of the main factors deterring employers from expanding their policies. “But the cost of not doing it is much greater,” she explained. “If your turnover numbers are going up, that’s a huge cost — and it’s also a huge cost in customer satisfaction.”

A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group also shows how and why paid leave makes good business sense.

4. Realize that employees will be more engaged if they feel supported. Under TD Bank’s old parental leave policy, employees could use short term disability and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take 6 to 8 weeks of leave — but that wasn’t enough.

Employees are more likely to be productive and loyal if they feel supported and valued at work, which is one reason that TD Bank knew they had to make some changes.

“If we are going to live our own values, what that means is anyone welcoming a new child needs to be eligible for this [new 16-week] policy,” Webster said. “We want to be able to tell our employees that we understand what it means to welcome a new child to your family and how much time it takes to bond with that child — and also to organize your life.”

5. Encourage employees to actually take leave. Creating a new leave policy is one thing. Sending the message that it’s OK to actually take advantage of the policy is another. If you take the time implement a new policy, the work doesn’t stop there; you must also make it clear that it’s not only acceptable to use the benefit — it’s encouraged.

“We’re hoping we have created the right messaging and the right environment where [employees] understand [this.] We’re going to do everything we can to encourage it,” Webster said, adding that she knows men might be hesitant to leap to this new policy, but she hopes that will evolve overtime.

Managers should also be tasked with getting the message out that taking leave is important. At TD Bank, for example, leaders have created materials and guides to help managers understand and articulate the message to both men and women.

TD Bank employees have been so appreciative of this change — and it’s made them proud of their company and their career. “In my whole career,” Webster said, “I have never received so many messages from employees about anything I have ever done that could come close to this. People are telling me, ‘Oh my god, I am so proud that TD Bank has done this. This matters.’”

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