Family leave for the modern worker


I was working from home, talking to a colleague on the phone about writing this post.


Ryan, six years old and the second youngest of my four children, had something important to say: “Daddy, am I old enough to be the banker in Monopoly Empire?”

“Of course you are.” Back to the call.

Balancing being a great parent and a great worker is really hard. I have four children and a wife who works in a big job. I eat most of my dinners standing up, am constantly holding multiple conversations at the same time, and my work is ever-present via my phone. Above all else, I want to share as much of the burden and joy of raising our kids as I can.

Our oldest child, almost 12 years old now, was born at a time when both my wife and I were working. But the rules, and more importantly, the norms guiding how we dealt with parental leave were very different in 2005. I was a recruiter then, and our head of HR had to explain to me that because we lived in California, I, too, could take time off to spend with my newborn child. If I hadn’t worked on the HR team, I don’t think I would have ever taken any time off.

When I did take that time – all six weeks that I was eligible for under California’s Paid Family Leave program – it was wonderful, and painful. Wonderful, in that I was getting to hang with this new little person while she didn’t really do much of anything; painful, because the entire time I was away I felt guilty for not being at work. I never took that much time again with any of the other children. And now I feel guilty for that.

This constant guilt – Am I working enough? No. Am I parenting enough? No. – is a natural part of life in the United States today, as 61 percent of families now have two working parents. This means employers really need to put thought into how best to enable their employees with families to be both successful workers and successful parents. When we started looking at how to handle personal and family leave at Blend, the original idea was to differentiate between “primary” and “secondary” caregivers – but as we kept looking at it, this policy just didn’t make sense.

When I examined my own family, I had a hard time figuring out who the primary and secondary caregiver might be. I’m the one who folds laundry, puts kids to bed most nights, and packs lunches. My wife manages all of our finances, six different calendars in her head, and has even been the PTA president (she was really pitching in for the team there!). So who’s the primary caregiver? That distinction just did not make sense.

The policy we ultimately decided on was: 16 weeks for leaves of absence in a 12 month period, 100 percent paid, for all employees – men, women, gay, straight, transgender, adopting, giving birth, or caring for a sick family member. No length of service requirement, no other nitpicky rules.

Benefits are a manifestation of our principles and culture. We wanted to make clear what we stand for: an inclusive, employee-led culture where everyone can do their best work. So often companies are focused on the near-term – “How will we manage without this person?” instead of thinking about the lifetime value of each employee.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 the median tenure of all employees in the U.S. was 4.2 years, down from 4.6 in 2014. We’ll never return to the time when employees stayed at a company for life, but I do think we can improve on our recent performance. Tech companies are having to rewrite the playbook on attraction and retention, as vying for fewer and fewer qualified people makes competition fierce. Industry leaders like Google and Facebook already offer even more aggressive leave policies — something they are able to support with their enormous profits. However, size shouldn’t exempt smaller companies from doing what’s right by their employees, and they must find a path that makes sense given their size.

We have to make it easier for all parents and other family members to take leave. We have to create flexible off-ramps and on-ramps for women or men who take time off to take care of children or elderly family members. This is how we’ll get more people back into the workforce and how we’ll enable our employees to succeed in building their own work-life balance once they’re back.