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Unlimited stress

7 August 2015 By Breakingviews columnists

Netflix this week announced unlimited leave for new parents, on top of its existing policy of putting no restrictions on vacation time in general. Statutory maternity and paternity leave requirements vary widely around the world, and employers’ rules also differ.

Some hew to the minimum laid down by governments or set their own limits on parental leave and holidays, while relatively few – like Netflix – hand the responsibility to employees. Breakingviews columnists, some parents and some not, deferred their use of Thomson Reuters-allotted vacation days to opine on whether or not Netflix is on the right track.

 John Foley: YES.

I’m unflinchingly all for unlimited leave. It’s a great gesture of trust. If your employees take the mickey, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem with your corporate culture. The catch is that with vacation, companies lose a reward currency, namely more days for more service. But that’s a good reason to think of better rewards.

Richard Beales: YES.

What John said. Also, Netflix is no startup – it has more than 2,000 employees – which proves the policy can work in larger organizations. There’s a problem though. It will only work if other human resources requirements match up. If people taking vacation and even parental leave are going to take responsibility for doing their bit under such a system, they need to be judged accordingly and properly motivated – and fired if they don’t make enough of a contribution. A lot of large organizations don’t do any of those things.

Una Galani: YES, BUT …

Netflix calls it “unlimited” maternity and paternity leave, but time off is actually capped at one year. This should not be considered innovative. Places like the United States and Hong Kong are far behind other countries in this regard – all parents should be allowed one year of fully paid parental leave with the option of returning after three or six months or whenever, just as Netflix is proposing. The problem with Netflix’s policy in the absence of a government minimum is that it will probably put pressure on new parents to return to work as soon as possible.

Edward Hadas: NO.

The actual policy is to allow full pay for the first year of the child’s life. That sounds generous, but is a bit sinister. A mother or father who actually takes the full year off is likely to face severe criticism from colleagues for dumping on them. It would be more reasonable to mandate six months or a year off at full pay, so no questions could be asked.

Olaf Storbeck: NO.

From a continental European perspective, the Netflix policy is just a poor substitute for failed social security policy. Parental leave – and holiday entitlements in general – should not be at an employer’s discretion but a legally enshrined right for all employees, not just those lucky enough to work for a progressive and fast-growing technology company. Without legal protection for employees, employers can exploit their position. It’s nice that Netflix chooses not to do so, but it should not have a choice in the first place.

Jennifer Saba: YES!

Parental leave in the United States is shameful. The government’s official line, for my European colleagues who bask in enlightened policy, is a sad 12 weeks, unpaid. That means it’s up to corporate America to fill in the gaps. Netflix is taking that seriously while many companies fall back on the government’s conveniently cheap minimum. Netflix is likely to be repaid with higher retention rates and less turnover, especially among women who too often drop out of the workforce to care for their children.

Robert Cole: NO.

Bad idea. Sure, employers should respect the value of motherhood and fatherhood and provide decent leave of absence for either or both parents. They should also grasp the importance of giving all employees the flexibility to work around family commitments. But parents have to put food on the kitchen table and they should work for the money required if they can. Parents also have a duty to be role models. Limitless freeloading off companies or the state – that is, other people – sets a dreadful example. Employers, meanwhile, need to be fair to those who do not have children, and unlimited parental leave means childless fellow employees have to work harder.

Dominic Elliott: IT’S UP TO NETFLIX.

Leave, parental or otherwise, should largely be a matter for companies. Take Austria, where parents’ jobs are guaranteed by law for up to 24 months after the birth of a child. That saddles corporations with a long period of uncertainty about their future resources, especially as budgets are usually annual. Governments have a role to play setting minimums to protect workers. But these should be real minimums, with companies free to do more. Social pressure will usually force employers to offer their staff greater flexibility. Netflix, for one, has seen the writing on the wall.

Daniel Indiviglio: NO.

Even work-life balance has its limits. A reasonable national policy governing life events like maternity might be a good idea. It could include a significant minimum break employers have to offer, like three months. Much longer absences, though, make planning difficult for companies and could also significantly stunt employees’ career development. Too much time off can be a lose-lose proposition for employers and employees alike.

Rob Cox: AUTOMATIC REPLY.

Thank you for your email. I will be on holiday for most of August, but look forward to engaging in this discussion more fruitfully when I return relaxed, re-energized and fully motivated.

Reynolds Holding: YES!

Netflix’s policy is an excellent idea, an approach that treats employees as responsible adults and stresses performance rather than face time. Those who take too much time off will inevitably be less productive and will suffer the consequences. For the most ambitious among them, the bigger problem may be failing to take enough vacation. I, of course, am writing this from the Bahamas.

Kate Duguid:

I would like to offer my services as Olaf’s hype man. (According to Wikipedia, a hype man in hip hop music and rapping is someone who supports the primary rappers with exclamations and interjections, boosting the audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants.)

Olaf Storbeck: Yeah!

 

 

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