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Paid Leave Employers in specialized industries or geographies with a tight labor market say a compelling benefits package, including paid leave, is key to attracting and retaining top talent. (Photo: Shutterstock)

More employers are voluntarily offering paid leave benefits to win over millennial workers in an increasingly competitive marketplace, but costs related to workforce management and thin profit margins in many industries have hampered widespread voluntary adoption, according to The Paid Leave Project’s report, “Emerging business trends in paid family medical leave.”

The project, an initiative managed by “action tank” Panorama, interviewed representatives from 470 large U.S. employers across 23 industries to find top reasons for voluntarily offering paid leave programs – as well as main barriers to offering such benefits.

The leading factor that prompts most companies to voluntarily offer the benefit is employee demand, particularly from millennial workers who hear about other companies’ paid leave policies from the media as well as from their friends and family members who receive such benefits. More than 40 percent of companies that already have paid leave cited this as a driver.

Related: Americans love paid family leave — just maybe not when others take it

Some employers say they want to be considered a “best employer” within their industry. Says a representative from a manufacturing company: “A company can choose to be in the middle of the pack, but we don’t see that as a competitive advantage. We want to be leaders.”

Employers in specialized industries or geographies with a tight labor market say a compelling benefits package, including paid leave, is key to attracting and retaining top talent. “The war for talent is pretty bad,” says a representative from an aerospace company. “We are taking a deeper dive at looking to expand (our) total rewards.”

The tech industry is leading the way, with employers like Netflix and Spotify, respectively offering 52 weeks and 26 weeks of parental leave. Part of this is because other industries are increasingly needing tech talent as the “digital revolution” is now transforming their own sector, including transportation, retail, telecommunications, healthcare, and manufacturing. Some companies in these industries are directly reaching out to technology companies to benchmark against their benefits.

The main challenge to offering paid leave is cost, including paying for a resource to temporarily fill a role while also funding the employee’s leave,

“Employers from retail, manufacturing, transportation and others with a high concentration of hourly workers indicated that coverage is particularly challenging for their sectors,” the authors write. “Given the nature of production and frontline roles, it can be logistically complex for such workers to cover their coworkers’ duties in addition to their own.”

Those industries with low profit margins, such as retail and transportation, find it particularly difficult consider offering paid leave because it just isn’t financially viable, they contend.

Says a representative from a nationwide retailer: “How can I offer paid leave when I can’t even offer comprehensive healthcare, including dental insurance?”

However, a handful of employers in these industries who have embraced paid leave are seeing positive results, including outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia, according to the report.Over the last five years, 100 percent of the women who have had children while working at Patagonia have returned to work. This has led to a balanced workforce and about 50 percent representation of women in all management levels.

For those who offer paid leave, many are also implementing “wrap-around” supports to complement the benefits, such as flexible work schedules to ramp on and off when employees return from leave, providing private locations for mothers to breastfeed, and employee resource groups for new parents. More and more employers are also expanding paid leave for those are providing caregiver services to elderly or disabled family members.

Organizations such as DMEC, the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), and providers such as LeaveLogic offer valuable research, tools, and resources for employers as they roll out or expand benefits, according to the report. Moreover, The Paid Leave Project, in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, created a comprehensive paid leave Playbook for employers, which includes cost calculator and industry benchmarking data; paid leave policy template; tips for employers in states with new paid leave laws were recently added; and paid Leave best practices and case studies of companies that offer the benefit.

The latest report builds on earlier work by The Paid Leave Project and the Boston Consulting Group, which in 2017 released “Why Paid Family Leave Is Good Business,” a summary report from initial research into the paid leave practices of more than 250 U.S. companies.

In 2018, The Paid Leave Project will focus its research on industry-specific dynamics, the challenges for companies in states with current or pending legislation, and how employers are tracking paid leave data, results, and return on investment.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

BenefitsPRO

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