Don’t Panic Management launched in 2009, and compared to many of the companies we do business with, we’re still in our fledgling years. It’s been a period of growth and building for us, and sometimes that means developing policies on the fly as we realize we need them.
“Oh, Felicia Freelancer wants to migrate her personal clients to live under the Don’t Panic umbrella… what’s our policy on that?”
“Candace the Client is asking us to manage her inbox over the Christmas holiday. Where do we stand there?”
You know how it goes when you’re starting out. Sometimes you simply don’t yet know what you don’t know.
Recently, we found ourselves in one of these situations, flying by the seat of our pants, when my husband Austin and I found out I was pregnant. At the time, only three Don’t Panic team members had welcomed new babies into their lives while working for the company. All three ladies were part-time contractors—my pregnancy would be the first full-time leave on the books.
We needed a parental leave policy right away, and I was to be the guinea pig to test it out.
Creating Don’t Panic’s Parental Leave Policy
Enter Jaime Hanson, fellow mom and Don’t Panic COO. Jaime did some research and crafted what I consider to be a gold star plan. In the name of transparency, below is the Don’t Panic parental leave policy as it stands today.
(Editor’s note: Just like this company, policies change all the time! This is not set in stone for Don’t Panic, but it’s being used and evaluated ongoing to create something sustainable that works for everyone.)
Total Paid and Unpaid Leave
Don’t Panic will provide 240 hours (equivalent to 6 weeks) of paid parental leave to full-time personnel who have been employees of the company for at least one calendar year at the time leave begins.
In addition to the fully paid leave time above, we plan to make accommodations for an additional 260 hours (equivalent to 6.5 weeks) of unpaid parental leave for full-time employees, allowing for up to 500 hours (equivalent to 12.5 weeks) total of parental leave. If the employee would like to work additional client hours in advance of leave and withhold pay to “earn” these additional hours as paid time, that is allowed.
We offer up to 500 hours of parental leave for full-time employees working 40 hours per week. As a few examples, that could look like:
- 12.5 weeks off, return to work at a full schedule
- 8 weeks off, return to work half days only for an additional 9 weeks
- 10 weeks off, return to work 3 full days per week for an additional 6 weeks
- 6 weeks off, return to work at 4-day schedule, taking Fridays off for an additional 32 weeks
We believe this policy allows each employee to create the best schedule for his or her family’s unique circumstances and preferences.
Because our hours-based policy is based on hours that would have otherwise been spent working, official DPM holidays are not included in the total hours of paid or unpaid leave. If an employee’s leave falls over one or several official DPM holidays, those days do not count against the hours and can be added to the end of the parental leave.
It’s worth noting that we hope to eventually be able to offer all 500 hours as paid leave in the future and are working to build this into our annual budget going forward.
A Plan Moms and Dads Can Actually Use
Working from home is a unique balancing act, particularly for young parents. A flexible, hours-based model gives families the chance to accommodate the individual needs of their special snowflake/tiny human. As fellow moms and dads know, some babies are rockstar sleepers. These team members might want to return to work earlier on a part-time schedule, handling projects during Baby’s naps.
Or, Baby might be an adorable psychopath who never sleeps, always cries, and can’t be put down. This employee might need all that leave at once, waiting to return to work until after they’ve survived the horrors of the fourth trimester (no judgment here!).
No two babies are alike; so why should your policy be?
Your company’s needs might be different from Don’t Panic’s, so the ins and outs of your parental leave policy won’t necessarily match ours. But if you stick with the bones of a model like this, you’ll find you have a team of grateful employees geared up to take full advantage of the flex schedule. The key components as I see it are thus:
- Offer as much time as you can afford. Parental leave in America is an absolute mess. Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution. It will help your recruitment and retention efforts and boost employee satisfaction without a doubt.
- Flexibility is key, particularly for virtual workers. If you want to create a parental leave policy moms and dads can actually use, it needs to be as diverse as the employees taking advantage of it.
- Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, it is a parental leave policy, not a maternity leave policy. Not only is this more LGBTQ friendly, research shows babies benefit from time home with both parents. This isn’t 1954. Dads need baby love, too.
A Guinea Pig’s Review
I’m actually still in the midst of using the Don’t Panic leave policy as we speak. My son Harrison was born on September 29 (just a few days before his due date!). I took 8 full weeks off, and am now back part-time through the holiday season. I’ll ramp up to my usual schedule in January.
The biggest perk for me? The holiday hours. Since they don’t count against me, this fall kid got extra time with his momma thanks to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. It’s been awesome.
While no plan is 100% perfect, as a new mom, it has been the life raft in a sea of diapers, nap schedules, and nighttime nursing sessions. H is an unpredictable little guy—by turns a sweet, smiling, excellent sleeper one day and a cranky, fussy mess the next. In my earliest postpartum days, I found myself somewhat bored while I sat around the house and he napped, and napped, and napped. I popped into daily meetings with the rest of the full-time team, which helped me stay completely up-to-date on the business.
Now, having several weeks with a part-time schedule is a major relief. He’s much more active now, and having extra time during the day to figure out how to balance giving him TLC and hustling to get the job done has made for a relatively smooth transition back to work (pro tip: this involves a lot of time baby-wearing).
When I do return to my usual schedule, Austin (also a work-at-home parent) and I will take shifts throughout the day to both make sure Harrison’s needs, as well as company needs, are met in full.
Take Care of Your Employees…
…so they can take care of their babies.
The United States is currently seeing a seismic shift in how much leave companies are willing (and obligated) to offer families. If you think you can get by with the bare minimum, or no leave at all, you’re dead wrong. A robust family leave policy has the power to entice top-tier prospective hires, make your team members feel valued, and ultimately, encourage employees to stick around. A crummy policy will have the exact opposite effect.
Create a parental leave policy parents can actually use, and your business will reap the rewards for years to come. Take it from this new WAHM, a flexible family plan makes all the difference in the world.
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