Global chemical company BASF is starting the new year off with a plethora of enhanced family leave benefits for its employees.
The company announced it has boosted paid parental leave to eight weeks for all new parents — maternal, paternal and adoptive. For new moms, that’s in addition to the typical six to eight weeks of short-term disability already available. The new policy went into effect Jan. 1.
It’s a significant change: Previously, BASF had a 12-week, unpaid, job-protected parental leave, and new fathers had no paid time off.
“Many of our employees had been asking for this change in employee surveys and other forums, like town hall meetings,” explains Mollie O’Brien, director of total rewards at BASF Corporation. “Of course, we consider and balance the needs of our business, the market and employee needs — but we definitely heard our people who were saying, ‘We need this.’”
BASF also will now pay the first five days of Family Medical Leave to allow employees to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Finally, the company ramped up its bereavement leave policy: Employees will be able to take up to 10 paid days (80 hours) of leave after the loss of an immediate family member and five days for a close relative. Previously, BASF employees had 3-5 days leave for the death of a family member.
These changes, O’Brien says, represents a “positive and intentional shift” for the company, one that’s designed to address the needs of a multigenerational workforce as well as to offer perks that attract and retain talent.
Half of BASF’s employee population falls within the “sandwich generation,” O’Brien explains, meaning they are balancing the responsibilities of raising children while caring for aging parents.
“We need to be more in sync with their needs,” she says. “That’s why we didn’t just change parental leave, but looked at bereavement and family medical leave too.
“Everyone knows that becoming a parent is a big deal and requires huge changes … [but] losing a parent or spouse or dealing with a serious and often unexpected illness can be just as disruptive, at least in the short term, and we wanted to give people the time and space to be able to focus on taking care of things at home before coming back to work,” O’Brien explains of enhanced bereavement time. “It’s not always the big things either; often it’s tactical things that just need to happen, like cleaning out Dad’s apartment, or getting Mom set up with a home health aide. People can’t focus on work, quality, safety or anything else that drives value if they’re worrying about these things.”
The company joins a number of large employers that have made changes to their family leave policies to begin the new year. American Express said last month that 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.
Ikea also ramped up its leave benefits; its U.S. employees now are eligible for up to four months of paid parental leave. The furniture retailer’s 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. That policy went into effect Jan. 1.
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 last year.
O’Brien says she thinks more companies are focusing on paid leave as they consider how to best attract and retain employees.
“As HR geeks, we are used to thinking about benchmarking as a central force in policy design. The shifting conversation on paid leave is revealing that benchmarking — what everyone is doing — may not be the strongest metric for building a good policy. A better design question is: “What is the right policy structure for us, based on our business and company values?”
Furthermore, she says, “family leave isn’t merit cycle. It doesn’t happen every year. When we talk about paid leave, we are talking about rare life events where people are the most vulnerable: They are becoming a parent or shifting into the role of caregiver or they may be losing a parent or spouse. If we can show up for employees in these times of greatest need, I believe employees will show up for our clients in a different way.”
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