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The work-life balance, or the harmonization between someone’s professional life and personal life, has been difficult to attain in recent years. According to a 2007 study done by Harvard and McGill University researchers, U.S. companies came up short when it comes to attaining a work-life balance. 65 countries had benefits such as paid parental leave for fathers (31 offered 14 weeks of paid leave or more); 107 countries allowed women to breastfeed at work (73 have paid breaks); 145 countries provided paid sick days (127 providing more than a week annually); and 134 countries had a set maximum work week. The United States was not amongst any of these countries.


However, change is coming. While these changes aren’t government-mandated, individual companies are taking charge on instituting a work-life balance. Netflix recently announced that it is offering unlimited paid parental leave, something only 12 percent of private sector companies currently offer. “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay,” said Tawni Cranz, Chief Talent Officer at Netflix.

Adobe and Microsoft have followed suit. Adobe’s policy, which takes effect on November 1, offers 10 weeks of paid medical leave, 16 weeks of parental leave, 26 weeks of maternity leave, and four weeks of paid family care leave to care for sick family members. “Caring for yourself and your family at home helps you be your best at work. But in the U.S., government mandates for paid leave are currently slim to nonexistent. That means companies must navigate the tough balance between supporting employees during major life events and meeting business goals. Too often, employees have not had the support they need,” said Donna Morris, senior vice president of People & Places at Adobe in a blog post.




Microsoft’s policy (which also takes effect on November 1) is offering eight weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 weeks of parental leave (four paid, eight unpaid). Birth mothers are given the option to expand their leave to 20 weeks, and can choose to take their leave at once or split it. They are also given short-term disability leave prior to their due date. Microsoft also announced changes to their holiday and 401(k) policies. “This is why today we’re announcing enhancements to our U.S. corporate employee benefits in three areas that employees consistently rank among the most important: having time to renew; saving for the future; and flexibility needed to spend time with new children,” said Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president of Human Resources at Microsoft.

At Netflix, some employees are still not covered by the policy, leaving questions as to whether tech companies are truly committed to offering a work-life balance to all of their employees. Those not covered in the Netflix policy include those who work in Netflix’s DVD segment and their corporate customer service. Fortune also reported that Adobe only offered half of the maternity leave Netflix did, raising even more questions as to the differing amounts of leave each company was offering. “New moms were tending to try to take five to six months if they could get all the stars aligned,” Morris told Fortune, who seemed to express caution that people would game the system.


The pursuit in work-life balance for tech companies is difficult—the tech landscape is always changing at a moment’s notice—but it could be necessary, considering criticism about the lack of women in tech companies. One unique view taken by Wharton professor Stewart Friedman is that young professionals don’t want to repeat their parents’ mistakes by being at work constantly and neglecting their home life. “Millennials saw their parents forsake aspects of life like family life in their pursuit of career success and didn’t always like what they saw,” he said. “It’s so much harder now to create boundaries between work and the rest of life.”

Fortune writer Ellen Bravo said paid maternity leave should be law as opposed to something individual companies should take responsibility for. One example cited in the article is YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. She said that when Google increased its paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks, 50% less women left the company. Friedman also says that both sides benefit from changes. Employees would be less burned out and employers could benefit by retaining top talent. In addition, the bottom line—something that matters across all businesses—would benefit from positive publicity.


Although work-life balance is something that employers are now noticing, they still have plenty of questions to address regarding the differences in their policies. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed the FAMILY Act, a law that would require employees to contribute to an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration in an update to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (which provided unpaid maternity leave) that would benefit not only working mothers or those in the tech industry, but low-wage, part-time and young workers as well. Gillibrand states that the program would be self-sufficient and not add to the federal budget, and that even the highest wage earners would only have to contribute less than $5 per week.

“This is what we’ve been pounding on for the past 25-plus years,” Friedman said. “I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see that this is happening now, because when this movement first began we were trying to get people to think about these questions, let alone do something about them.”

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