Starting Now at Netflix: Unlimited Maternity and Paternity Leave
August 6, 2015 9:08 AM   Subscribe

At Netflix, we work hard to foster a “freedom and responsibility” culture that gives our employees context about our business and the freedom to make their own decisions along with the accompanying responsibility. With this in mind, today we’re introducing an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

Not much meat in the announcement via their blog.

Is this a growing trend among more progressive corporations? Earlier this summer Virgin Group announced that new dads would also get a year long leave that mothers in the company already does, as part of a shared parental leave period.
posted by numaner (51 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I should clarify because of misleading title that I copypasta'd in case people didn't read clearly: The leave period is technically for one year, but it's.. "unlimited" within that year.
posted by numaner at 9:11 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]




This seems more than slightly suspicious, since Netflix already (supposedly) offers "unlimited vacation."

From Mic.com: "Netflix Just Did Something Amazing That Has Nothing to Do With Movies."
The move, however, was greeted with skepticism by at least one former employee. Darren Thiesfeld, who worked as a vendor account specialist, told Mic he didn't buy the company's stated sincerity.

"The unlimited maternity leave policy is nothing but smoke and mirrors and more of a publicity stunt," he said. "As with the unlimited vacation policy at Netflix, this policy is ideal on paper, but the reality is vastly different."

Thiesfeld said turnover at the company was high and those who made use of Netflix's generous leave policy were frowned upon by management and lived in constant fear of being replaced.

"Most new hires don't make it to the six-month mark and therefore are unable to take advantage of any of these policies, and those that do are shunned and in constant fear of being replaced," he said.

Nevertheless, the policy now puts Netflix at the forefront of companies providing maternity and paternity benefits.
Methinks the author of that article is still being just a tad too optimistic. This seems like trendy nonsense to me rather than an actual policy – and frankly a workplace where you're pressured to work more than you have to is worse than a workplace where you're given meager but well-respected vacation time.
posted by koeselitz at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Vox: Unlimited vacation is a silly Silicon Valley trend that just won't die

Wow. That article assumes that workers are terrified neurotics. Not me. If my employer offers leave and I honestly need it, then I'll take what I need.
posted by tunewell at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Microsoft expanded its parental leave recently as well.

Thankfully with more clear definition. I think mothers can also claim short-term disability based off MS's plan so that helps even more.
posted by selfnoise at 9:24 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


That Vox article is kinda silly. People also feel pressure not to take leave when they have an exact and generous number of days allowed. Just leaving it up to individual teams makes the most sense to me: if you're doing well, nobody cares if you take 7 or 8 days off whenever. My company has unlimited leave and it is great so far. I can plan longer vacations during slow times of the year without even thinking about taking a day or two at other times.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2015


tunewell: “Wow. That article assumes that workers are terrified neurotics. Not me. If my employer offers leave and I honestly need it, then I'll take what I need.”

And, according to the ex-employee in the article I posted, you'll probably find yourself moved to another less important project, passed down the chain, or told there's just no work for you when you get back so they're letting you go. That'll be fun, eh?
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wouldn't that also happen in a shitty company that gave you exactly 30 days off a year instead? Answer: Yes it would.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:32 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Netflix is the company that gave a presentation boasting about how keen they are to fire people, e.g. good performance gets you fired immediately, they require great performance constantly in order to not fire you. I don't predict anybody taking long child leave unless they are planning to exit anyway, so don't mind being fired.
posted by w0mbat at 9:35 AM on August 6, 2015


Women at my non-Netflix Silicon Valley company have greeted this news with a great big "HA HA HA GREAT NO THANKS." Everyone knows someone at Netflix and we all know they rarely take more than a couple days a year of their supposedly "unlimited" vacation. Something tells me Netflix won't make usage statistics public...and someone in HR is going to get a HUGE bonus this year for decreasing parental leave utilization while getting tons of fawning publicity for this supposedly progressive move.

Make it a clear length with job protection, or don't do it at all. This "you can take however much you want but ON YOUR CONSCIENCE BE IT" bullshit is ridiculous.
posted by town of cats at 9:39 AM on August 6, 2015 [46 favorites]


“Wow. That article assumes that workers are terrified neurotics. Not me. If my employer offers leave and I honestly need it, then I'll take what I need.”

And, according to the ex-employee in the article I posted, you'll probably find yourself moved to another less important project, passed down the chain, or told there's just no work for you when you get back so they're letting you go. That'll be fun, eh?
posted by koeselitz


Fair enough, koeselitz, but I think saying that unlimited leave is a bad thing is misguided. Shitty companies are a bad thing.
posted by tunewell at 9:39 AM on August 6, 2015


Yeah, I'm way more excited to hear about the changes to Microsoft's policy, since MS's culture is such that people will probably actually use it. Everyone knows Netflix is a meat grinder that pays great and destroys its people, this is just window dressing.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:43 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The offer is great, and I would love to see a longitudinal study of Americans that actually take employers up on them. How'd it work out for them two years down the line?

I would put money down that they wouldn't get fired or laid off at any greater rate than others, but their career arcs bend and flatten. "Oh, you're the guy that took a year off? Wow, you actually did it, huh? How great of you! I'm sure it was very meaningful for you and your family. OK, so we're moving you to a new cubicle..."

Of course, maybe the people that would take a year off are already the kinds of people that would have flat career arcs, because that's who they are naturally.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2015


tunewell: “Fair enough, koeselitz, but I think saying that unlimited leave is a bad thing is misguided. Shitty companies are a bad thing.”

Agreed there. Unlimited leave would be a fine thing. I'm skeptical it's ever existed anywhere. The shitty thing is trumpeting your "offer" of unlimited leave to convince the rubes watching at home that you're a wonderfully progressive company, whilst everyone in the industry knows you're full of crap and would never actually allow that kind of thing.
posted by koeselitz at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


NPR covered this topic this morning, so the transcript isn't up yet, but they referred to a 2010 public announcement of private practice: fire everyone doing an "adequate" job*. The spin was that instead of focusing on things like how much overtime someone pulls, or on the flip side how much vacation time or paternity leave someone takes, look at what they're producing. Sounds great! But as other shave noted in this thread, if you're gone for too long, do people remember you were an exceptional person before?

Also noted: this policy is only for folks in the highly competitive tech side of Netflix, not in the grunt-level distribution centers that handle the DVDs still being mailed about. This isn't going to bring about a revolution in all work places.

* And if you cull all the "adequate" people without keeping some notion about what "adequate" looks like, there's the chance that this just ratchets up the pressure on people to perform, because "adequate" moves up towards "exceptional" without any point of reference.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:55 AM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed.

Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.

The singular "they" makes this tricky? But the way this is phrased doesn't read like "go ahead, take the whole year off". It reads like okay, you can take a few weeks now, and then maybe work a reduced schedule for awhile. Absences, plural, not one big chunk of time. They're phrasing it as "unlimited maternity/paternity leave", but the actual way they talk about it is more like "for the first year you can have somewhat flexible scheduling, after that you'd better have your nose back to that grindstone." Not "leave" as in "we'll see you around baby's first birthday!"
posted by Sequence at 10:03 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: I'm skeptical it's ever existed anywhere

Try everywhere else in the developed world.
posted by LtRegBarclay at 10:15 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was talking about unlimited vacation time, which I'm pretty sure the rest of the developed world doesn't offer.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


If there's one thing I have learned by talking to a lot of people in the tech world, it's that the places that constantly brag about how awesome they are to work at usually aren't. The places that are quietly awesome employers don't have to brag, since they have close to zero turnover and few positions to fill.
posted by miyabo at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yeah, Netflix has a lot of direct contradictions in their policy. They take a basically libertarian policy with their leave and benefits ("Whatever you want is fine, there's no policy on vacation.") but they also directly compare themselves to professional sports where they want you while you're a high performer but will not hesitate to get rid of you when you're not at top level anymore. (This was from a culture deck from a few years ago, perhaps they have changed it.)

Neither of these policies is truly practical in a real sense, so it feels like marketing and not like real policy, which leaves everyone guessing and covering their asses.
posted by vunder at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have unlimited vacation. I take less than I did when I had a fixed number, but I feel better when I take those days off. That's a weird, very subjective read on the idea, but I prefer it.
posted by GilloD at 10:32 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have a link to an article or content that talks about this Netflix over-the-top performance vs. being fired? I'm curious about it.
posted by tunewell at 10:32 AM on August 6, 2015


Does anyone have a link to an article or content that talks about this Netflix over-the-top performance vs. being fired? I'm curious about it.

Netflix culture deck: See slides 22-25ish.
posted by vunder at 10:36 AM on August 6, 2015


Does anyone have a link to an article or content that talks about this Netflix over-the-top performance vs. being fired? I'm curious about it.

See also: How Netflix Reinvented HR
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:41 AM on August 6, 2015


If you fire everyone who is "adequate" then by definition you need to fire everyone, because only exceptional is adequate, and then boom, that means exceptional is only adequate. Time to shut down the whole company.
posted by idiopath at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had to explain to the CEO at my old firm that the Netflix "fire people doing well" rubric only works in very well paying, destination companies.

It was a painful multi-day conversation that I got nominated to have because I was considered least likely to get fired for having it.

Yuck. But I saw that slideshow EVERYWHERE for about 18 months.
posted by French Fry at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a childless person who has spent way too much time covering for parents already ("I've got to take my kid to the doc", "I have to go to my kid's softball game", "I have to take every single holiday off: after all, I'm a parent"), really resent once again being expected to cover for the people who choose to be parents: I hate how it is expected that I won't mind being the only one to stay late again/taking on extra tasks/work weird hours just to cover for them at the drop of a hat. I understand that being a parent is a fulltime job in itself, but it's not my fulltime job.

I currently have something like two months of vacation leave built up; I'll probably lose the majority of that at the end of this fiscal year, because no, I can't get a parent to cover for me --- the parents take all the holidays off, so I can't; the parents take off in summer, so I can't; the parents want to take their kids on ski trips, so I can't go in winter; the parents need extra time during school months, so you guessed it: I can't.

So perhaps you'll understand how I fail to have any sympathy for folks who expect me to cover for them for a full year and then just waltz back into their job like everything is hunky-dory. Offer childless people the same benefits, or give it to no one.
posted by easily confused at 10:48 AM on August 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


The unlimited leave and vacation are both great.

But they need an incredible culture and indomitable HR to make them fair.

Because subtle punishment and imbalanced workloads are very common and often break down along lines that have nothing to do with talent and fairness.
posted by French Fry at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2015


easily confused: In a proper parental leave system, other employees aren't expected to just cover for the parent taking leave. Another entire person is hired for the term of the person's leave.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:53 AM on August 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


Unlimited vacation policies also have the convenient benefit of not requiring companies to pay out unused vacation when an employee quits. Rather useful in the high-burnout, high-turnover startup scene.
posted by potch at 10:58 AM on August 6, 2015 [24 favorites]


I don't know, easily confused. I manage 15 people and our schedule/workplace is pretty flexible. The people in my group who are parents are here early every day and their schedule is reliable; the ones who aren't vary a lot, even day to day, and seem to have plenty of other mysterious obligations that keep them away from work from time to time. The parents also tend to pay slightly more attention to their job security and their career development for reasons. I think some of what you're complaining about is cultural to different companies and managers, and maybe your situation is a little cultural to you.
posted by vunder at 11:02 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I applied for a job at the Netflix call center when I first moved to Portland about five years back. In advance of my interview, I did some research on Glassdoor, where reviews were mixed. Pay and benefits were decent compared to other entry-level places at the time, but there were a lot of complaints about the toxic atmosphere of ultra-competitiveness and intentional job insecurity. Perhaps that colored my impression of the place, but while taking the pre-interview orientation tour, I definitely sensed a low-level anxiety pervading the room. And then they sat us down to watch the infamous slide show presentation and talk about their corporate culture and how a person could advance as far as their ambition would take them and blah blah blah. And I suddenly felt like I was the sucker at a Tony Robbins seminar or Landmark Forum retreat. So glad I didn't get the call back, as I'm sure I wouldn't have lasted two weeks in that hive.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:06 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Something tells me Netflix won't make usage statistics public

According to the people commenting on this story over on new.ycombinator who say they work at Netflix as managers or are familiar with how the management structure works there is explicitly no tracking of any kind of the leave that people take so there aren't any statistics to release in the first place. Here's a direct quote:
We can't publish stats about vacation usage.

That's because I don't know of a single manager here who tracks vacation usage. There's a general allergy to doing that, because that can lead to trying to manage that number and then the 'unmetered vacation' is no longer so unmetered.

I suppose I could, for my people, try to find all the out of office notifications, but that'd be a silly level of effort.
posted by metaphorever at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2015


potch: Unlimited vacation policies also have the convenient benefit of not requiring companies to pay out unused vacation when an employee quits.

The "unlimited vacation" policy serves a few purposes as described upthread (ie: publicity stunt, slacker trap, etc), but this hits the nail on the head from a balance sheet perspective. Unpaid time can accrue as a balance sheet liability. Get rid of the accruals and voila! The balance sheet just got a little cleaner.
posted by dr_dank at 11:15 AM on August 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not only can managers not track unlimited vacation usage, they can't even suggest cultural norms or suggested guidelines for how much to take. That would start to give them legal liability to include it as part of your compensation, and in California at least, vacation days are literally money in the bank. (As in, when you leave the company you get check with unused vacation days.)

When our company switched from metered to unmetered vacation, we all got a check for unused time and a pat on the head. I had maybe 5 or 6 weeks of vacation before -- afterwards I tried to take the same amount but the company or my manager certainly couldn't even suggest an "appropriate" amount.

Count me with the folks extremely skeptical of unlimited vacation and unlimited maternity/paternity leave. It takes a financial obligation off the corporate books and leaves the employees with reduced power over their own schedule.
posted by troyer at 11:35 AM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


So perhaps you'll understand how I fail to have any sympathy

Literally I don't.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:54 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh man, that Netflix slide deck is just full of red flags.

"High performers make very few errors," is incorrect; high performers should make plenty of errors, correct them, and learn from them. Enforcing a "very few errors" policy leads to a culture of ass-covering wherein everyone spends a large amount of time shifting blame around for organizational failure.

Likewise the generous severance package, and the unlimited vacation time, and the employees who are self-disciplining; it's all designed to shift the burden onto the employee. Am I excellent? Am I at work enough? Am I improving myself enough? Oh shit I just got fired and a 'generous severance package,' guess I wasn't good enough.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:01 PM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wow, just read that slide deck. Some serious Cool Aid there.
posted by Joe Chip at 12:11 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was aware of the accounting side of traditional vacation (having worked for a company that forced us to take accrued days whenever they were about to narrowly miss their quarterly earnings projections), and it's come up here a couple of times. My experience seems to indicate that the financial liability aspect of traditional vacation is a major factor in companies deciding to not give traditional vacation hours.

Anyone have specifics?
posted by tippiedog at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2015


easily confused: In a proper parental leave system, other employees aren't expected to just cover for the parent taking leave. Another entire person is hired for the term of the person's leave.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:53 AM


To follow up on what hurdy gurdy girl said, if you resent parents for taking leave because you're being forced to cover for them, you're falling into the trap your employer set for you. They much prefer you resent each other than blame the people who set up a system to fail you in that way. Because there will always be parents in the world and non-parents. If a workplace can't treat them both fairly, then it is the fault of the employer.
posted by emjaybee at 12:27 PM on August 6, 2015 [33 favorites]


Unpaid time can accrue as a balance sheet liability. Get rid of the accruals and voila! The balance sheet just got a little cleaner.

Wait, what? Unused vacation has to be paid out by law? Where?
posted by indubitable at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2015


Unused vacation has to be paid out by law? Where?

About half of the 50 states have laws requiring employers to pay out an employee's unused vacation when the employment relationship ends.


California is one such state. (Netflix HQ is in California.)
posted by vunder at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isn't "fire the merely good" just the reincarnation of rank and yank? Works great the first couple passes (or I guess as long as you're the hottest employer on the block) and not so much when everybody hates you and each other.
posted by atoxyl at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Except stated in extreme "rockstar ninjas only" terms.
posted by atoxyl at 12:59 PM on August 6, 2015


I missed dr_dank's comment above about accounting.
posted by tippiedog at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


indubitable: Not only does accrued vacation have to paid upon termination of employment, but as I said above, since accrued vacation also is a liability, I've worked at a couple of struggling companies that periodically forced employees to take accrued vacation in order to tweak the quarterly earnings reports. Sucks.
posted by tippiedog at 1:21 PM on August 6, 2015


Yeah we discussed their Nazi HR slide deck on the blue previously.

Non co-incidentally, the one place I've worked that adopted the Netflix vacation policy was a Palo Alto startup where management would randomly fire people all the time for seemingly no reason except to prevent people vesting.
If you are running that kind of place, this policy saves a lot of money, because you are not paying out unused vacation every time you fire someone.
posted by w0mbat at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


How is this 'unlimited'? It's a year of (paid) parental leave. The limit is a year.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:04 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


At least my company's policy is clear, 0 days of paid paternal leave. If anything good comes of this I hope it is to force other companies to complete.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2015


I'll just speak about silicon valley in general, as it's 11 PM, and here we are. What a beautiful and illuminated and progressive policy!

(That the carefully measured carrot/stick social systems etc. will make sure never, ever see anything like more than token adoption)

< Source: I commuted with Netflix employees for over a year in Palo Alto. Smart, hard-working, driven folks. Who were obviously type-A+++ folks and would measure and drive each other to within .05 day/utilizations per/project. Nobody's going to be soaking up a year at home with baby jr. on this.
posted by mrdaneri at 11:22 PM on August 6, 2015


Who were obviously type-A+++ folks and would measure and drive each other to within .05 day/utilizations per/project. Nobody's going to be soaking up a year at home with baby jr. on this.

If that's the case, they sound like A+++ workers, C+ parents.

So, in parts of Europe, this is already a common thing. In Croatia, the law is that you get a year of paid maternity leave or six months of paternity leave.

My sister's in the UK. She got six months of maternity leave and was able to spend another six months at part-time. (I'm not sure if this was a government policy or if the company volunteered it.) Because it is a common and expected practice, her career was not dented, and she did not worry about going back to a desk in the storage room.

Over here in the US, my wife got three months of leave total via disability claims. I got two weeks of leave (one paid via vacation days, one unpaid) out of the kindness of my manager's heart, even though I wasn't entitled to any leave.

I do think the Netflix people should just say it's a year to avoid the unlimited-vacation-style competition paranoia, but it is better than what they had before. If I worked there, I'd take the time, then if I felt like I was being treated unfairly afterward, I'd quit and work elsewhere.
posted by ignignokt at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2015


« Older 100 Years of ...   |   it's raining, it's pouring / the old man is... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments