With the right infrastructure, small businesses can not only survive, but thrive by giving employees parental leaves.
For example, Becca Apfelstadt has a $3 million, 20-person company, treetree, that works with large corporate marketing departments. Her company expanded 10-fold after her first maternity leave three years ago. She credits the growth to the way her team stepped up to fill in for her and how they learned new skills.
1. Prepare and make a plan
One of the things some companies do is fill the gap when one of their employees is on maternity leave. Processes and procedures developed by treetree, for instance, ensure a smooth transition from the day the mother leaves to when she returns. As head of a company that fills in when women are on maternity leaves, Apfelstadt knew it was important that, even though she wasn’t required to do so by law, she provide the same opportunity to not just her employees but herself. Apfelstadt set an example for her team by taking a maternity leave herself. She is currently on a nine-week maternity leave, the second in three years.
2. Get your team ready
This is an opportunity to give employees looking for more responsibility that chance, according to Caron Beesley, a contributor to Small Business Administration. Cross training should be done not just for maternity leaves, but in case a staff member is out sick or leaves the company. Build relationships with freelancers who have the skills your company requires so you have people at the ready to pick up the slack, said Apfelstadt.
3. Maternity leaves have costs
Maternity and paternity leave do have costs, even if the leave is unpaid. Some companies spread the work to to other employees, which can burn workers out or lower morale. Other companies may hire freelancers and contractors. Still other companies use a combination of techniques.
Teetree pays 100% of short-term disability, which provides some compensation when women are on maternity leave as well as providing some paid time off. Depending on who is on leave and what her upcoming projects are, treetree also may hire a part-time freelancer or contractor to fill in. And some work is spread to others.
Paternity leaves can be a crucial time for men to bond with their children. There is a positive impact of paternity leaves long after the leave has ended, reports The Economist. Fathers are more likely to take an active role in childcare on an ongoing basis. These fathers are more like to be involved feeding, dressing, bathing and playing with their children. Children benefit too. A study by the University of Oslo found that children who had fathers that took paternity leave did better in secondary school, especially girls.
A fellow small business owner modeled her maternity after Apfelstadt’s but took 12 months off and didn’t come back full time.
While it is too expensive for a small company to offer back-up childcare when there is a school holiday, some companies can develop a bring-kids-to-work policy.
The vast majority, 80%, of employees at small companies that offer parental-leave benefits do take advantage of the opportunity to take a maternity or paternity leave, whether paid or unpaid, according to a survey by the Families and Work Institute.