Thursday, September 12, 2013

Five Reasons I Want to Pay New Moms To Stay Home (If They Want To)

Act #255: Big picture, people.

I'm a somewhat new director of a small non-profit organization.  Our annual operating budget is just over a million dollars.  We have 16 staff members in 6 offices covering 17 counties.  And for some reason, we are all women (although I'm trying really hard to entice some men to join us soon.)  Try as I might, at this juncture, we simply can't afford to offer paid parental leave, given our typical non-profit woes including a budget deficit, a highly anticipated 5% federal grant sequestration, a failing and expensive retirement plan that we're locked into, and overall fundraising challenges.  I hope to lead my organization to long-term financial stability and a 5-year strategic plan that will one day include paid parental leave.

Since I can remember, I dreamed for that moment that I'd finally be in a position to impact policy and transform work culture.  And here I am, with my hands practically tied and in the last year alone, two of my staff have had babies!  So we have to get creative and find other ways to support new parents - offering comp time accrual and compensation to extend leave time, shared job responsibilities to temporarily fill duties of employees on leave, capacity to work from home or work reduced hours.  Why exactly would a struggling, small non-profit like ours still think it's a good idea to make it easier for new parents to be away from the office?  Well, you've heard all the arguments for paid leave.  You've heard the statistics about how the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world not to offer paid parental leave, how paid leave increases employee morale and retention. Blah, blah, blah, right?  Besides all the good economic sense it makes to nurture a productive work culture where employees have a healthy work-life balance, let me tell you really why I am positioning my organization to offer paid parental leave within the next 5 years.  It's pure selfishness.  Let me explain.

Because they come back.
C'mon folks, let's get real. A one-week old baby can't feed itself.  Someone's got to do this.  In an organization of social workers who make about $30,000 a year, my staff literally can't afford to give half of their paycheck towards childcare - but they do anyway.   While all of my staff are committed to our work (we work at a rape crisis center), some - especially those with single-income families - might actually have no choice but to quit and stay home to take care of their children.  If they did, it would cost the organization way more in dollars and time to recruit, hire, and train someone new.

Because they are more productive. 
When they are at work, they are able to focus more on their work, and less on how to provide care for their child during those critical first months.  Stress is real y'all.  And like it or not, it impacts attentiveness, productivity, and one's capacity to think clearly.

Because having the glow of new life around helps remind us that there is good in the world. 
As I mentioned earlier, we work in a high-stress, always-having-a-crisis work environment.  On a daily basis, we are surrounded by unimaginable trauma and it's essential for us to stay grounded in hope - for us to remember why there is a need for us to even exist.  Supported well-rested parents with baby pictures do just that.

Because my most valuable work product is the staff, and I choose to invest in them.
Most of that 1 million dollar operating budget goes towards salary and fringe, and it's worth every penny.  All but 3 of us do direct work with clients.  We serve as counselors, therapists, advocates, and educators.  Our staff make our work possible - why wouldn't we invest in them?

Because work-life balance is essential in our line of work.  
I've watched my staff work 70 hour work weeks with no weekends and I've seen what it does to them.  They are pretty much unengaged globs of non-productive energy.  And I tell them this.  And I send them home.  And I push them to own their calendars and manage their time more effectively so they can go home and have a life.  Why?  Because I'm super nice?  Not exactly.  Because I want them to be the best counselors, therapists, and advocates while I have them between 8-5 p.m., 5 days a week.  Because I need them to bring on their best game when they are at work.  Because we're eradicating sexual violence here, y'all.  This is serious work.

1 comment:

  1. A non-profit organization I worked for, Kansas Children's Service League, implemented a program that allowed new parents to bring their baby(ies) to work for her/his first year.
    New parents partnered with co-workers to care for their babies throughout the day. Turns out, babies are awesome at boosting morale. :)
    One of the best policies ever, in my opinion.

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