Paid leave, flexibility helps working parents at Lexington-area businesses

agarau@herald-leader.comJune 29, 2014 

For Olivia Davis, the opportunity to take paid maternity leave was a huge help as she adjusted to her new role as a mom and then again as she became a mother of two.

"It gave me more time to connect with my kids and to connect with my husband and my kids together as this new family unit," Davis said. "So when it was time to go back to work I was doing it because I wanted to for my career and not because I needed the paycheck."

Davis is an audit manager in PricewaterhouseCoopers' Lexington office. She took 14 weeks of paid maternity leave for the birth of her first child, now 4, and then used paid maternity leave plus the company's flexible vacation policy to get 16 weeks of paid leave for the birth of her second child, now 10 months.

On Monday, PricewaterhouseCoopers' U.S. chairman, Bob Moritz, spoke alongside President Barack Obama and several business leaders at the White House Summit on Working Families.

Along with paid family and medical leave, the president called for American businesses to take other steps to better accommodate working families.

"We have a lot of different policies and programs that really help working parents or employees who maybe have elder parents by giving them a lot of flexibility," said Sue McPartlin, PwC's Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana market managing partner. "It's the right thing to do to help people and, from a business perspective, it makes sense."

Jennifer Swanberg, a professor of Social Work at the University of Maryland, was happy to see the president discussing these issues.

"I think it's a very important gesture," she said. "Having some sort of paid leave is just one part of a much larger movement that needs to happen to help working families," she said.

America is currently the only developed country that does not mandate paid maternity leave. In fact, only 16 percent of all U.S. companies offer any paid maternity leave, according to a 2008 Families and Work Institute report.

"Typically what we find is that those individuals who need paid family or medical leave the most are the ones who have less access," Swanberg said. "There are many families in our country who rely on a dual income and are just scraping by. If they don't have income coming from just one of the parents, then that puts their family in economic jeopardy."

Swanberg stressed that paid family or medical leave is just one way of making the workplace more family friendly. She explained that helpful policies will differ depending on the type of workforce a company employs.

"I think the first thing is really to understand who your workforce is. One company might have an older workforce so an on-site day care wouldn't make sense. Some workers might need a lot of flexibility and some might be helped by getting their schedule further in advance," Swanberg said. "So it's about a patchwork of different policies and practices that can be put in place."

Lexmark has adopted many practices to make their offices family-friendly, according to their vice president of Human Resources, Jeri Isbell.

"You can flex your hours, you can leave during the middle of the day and a couple years ago we took an even bigger step and announced unlimited vacation," Isbell said. "We ask that employees just please get their work done, but take the time that you need to relax and have fun."

Though these generous policies may seem like a potential drain on company resources, both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Lexmark believe them to be sound business decisions.

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that when the company began offering unlimited paid sick days, the number of sick days actually went down.

When benefits such as paid family leave are offered, companies often find increased employee productivity and increased employee retention.

"I really feel like it's an investment in me as a person and as a talent to retain," Davis said. "It makes me feel more invested back because I feel valued."

Annie Garau: (859) 231-1685Twitter: @agarau6

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