Life is about to get a lot better for new parents who work for American Express.

The financial-services giant on Monday announced all of its U.S.-based regular full-time and part-time employees will be eligible for 20 weeks of paid parental leave starting in 2017 — as well as a bevy of enhanced employee benefits for fertility, surrogacy and adoption.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

The boost is a huge change: Until now, the company offered primary caregivers six weeks of paid parental leave benefits and two weeks for secondary caregivers.

American Express said the move is aimed at promoting a family-friendly culture as well as improving overall well-being among the company’s 21,000 U.S. employees.

“Our goal is to build a culture of health through our leadership, policies and work environment,” says David Kasiarz, senior vice president of global total rewards and learning at American Express, adding that the enhanced benefits are a “win-win” both for employees and for the company as a whole. “We see parental leave as an essential component of this and have made it a priority to support both our employees and their families.”

The new paid parental leave policy — beginning Jan. 1 — doesn’t just cover new moms. It’s available to both women and men welcoming a child through birth, adoption or surrogacy. In addition to 20 weeks of paid parental leave, birthing mothers will be eligible to receive paid, medically-necessary leave related to the birth of their child, which is generally six to eight additional weeks.

In addition, the company said it is increasing its employee benefits for fertility, surrogacy, adoption and lactation. Benefits include:

· Up to $35,000 per adoption or surrogacy event (up to a maximum of two events per employee) to help with the cost of surrogacy or adoption
· A lifetime maximum of $35,000 for infertility treatment, including advanced reproductive technology procedures, available under the company’s health plans
· Free 24-hour access to board-certified lactation consultants
· Free breast-milk shipping while traveling on company business

Kasiarz says the company took a “thoughtful approach” when designing the new policy, which included reading analysis on the subject as well as conducting focus groups and surveys with company employees to understand their overall thoughts on current programs.

“Through our research, we saw that an increase in paid parental leave has a far-reaching, positive impact on the mental and physical health of employees and their families, as well as women’s career advancement,” he says. “In addition, we know that parenting has changed. Traditional parenting responsibilities have evolved, and more LGBTQ families are having children. Our policy is inclusive of the needs of our diverse employee base.”

Over the coming months, he adds, American Express “will be doing even more to encourage employees to take full advantage of their parental leave and offering them more resources to help them transition to and from leave.” That includes a parent concierge service to provide personalized one-on-one support to employees throughout the stages of family planning, Kasiarz says.

Part of a bigger trend

The announcement from American Express comes just one week after a similar move by Ikea. The furniture retailer said Tuesday it will provide up to four months of paid parental leave for all U.S. employees — salaried and hourly workers, mothers and fathers, and adoptive and foster parents. Starting Jan. 1, Ikea employees who have been with the company for a year will get six weeks of leave at full pay, followed by six weeks at half pay. Workers who have been with the company for three years will be eligible for eight weeks at full pay, followed by eight weeks at half pay.

Read also: Ikea significantly ramps up paid parental leave benefits

Though U.S. employers traditionally haven’t been very generous with paid leave — a Pew Research Center report ranks the United States last out of 38 countries in government-supported time off for new parents — an increasing number of big-name firms have expanded the benefit. Bank of America and EY also increased paid parental leave benefits for their employees this year.

Only 12% of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, according to Labor Department data.

“Offering generous paid parental leave has become table stakes among Silicon Valley companies,” Rich Fuerstenberg, a Mercer partner, told EBN in September. “But you’ll also find similar programs in other industries, like professional service, accounting firms, consulting firms and investment banks.”

According to new research from the Society of Human Resource Management, leave is one of the top-rated employee benefits by workers. Because of that fact, more than one-third of HR professionals told SHRM they altered their leave benefits in the past 12 months to aid in retention and attraction efforts.

“As the war for talent wages on, employers will need not only to ensure that they are strategically utilizing benefits to secure talent, but that employees understand the value of their benefits package,” says Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of workforce analytics. “Healthcare, retirement and leave benefits are all highly valued by employees, so bolstering these benefits could go a long way in recruiting new employees and retaining existing ones.”

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