On Monday of this week, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced the arrival of their second daughter, August. Perhaps even more significant is the announcement Zuckerberg made nearly two weeks before: that he would be taking two months of paid paternity leave.

As a company, Facebook offers four months of paid paternity and maternity leave to its employees. While generous by American corporate standards, this is actually pretty run-of-the-mill for Silicon Valley's top firms. Netflix offers a whopping 52 weeks of compensated leave for new moms. Adobe and Cisco offer 26 weeks, and Ebay offers 24 weeks.

Even non hi-tech companies are jumping on the bandwagon, with IKEA giving its workers four months of paid parental leave and American Express providing five months.

Paid leave for new parents has become of the most important perks for attracting quality talent to firms. It's also a trend that is well supported by scientific research.

Everyone in the family benefits from paid parental leave

Babies clearly benefit, with lower mortality rates, more well-child visits to the doctor, and extended breastfeeding when parents are given paid leave. Studies have also shown that moms who take longer maternity leave have lower rates of depression and improved mental health--critical for their roles as parents and workers.

Paternity leave for men also provides unique benefits. Men who take time off to care for their babies are far more likely to help with childcare-related tasks in the long run, helping to alleviate some of the burden from their partners. Kids who bonded with dad during those early days also experienced better performance in school.

Corporate culture may still lag behind policy

But the question remains as to whether or not employees feel like they can fully take advantage of such leave benefits. A policy that's on the books isn't necessarily one that's fully supported by company culture. Many American managers still believe that commitment to family demonstrates a decided lack of commitment to the job--something that disproportionally hurts women in the workplace.

That's why Zuckerberg's example is so important. He's signaling to his own employees, as well as to the larger Silicon Valley community, that prioritizing family in the critical weeks and months after the arrival of a baby is acceptable and encouraged.

Contrast this with what happened at Yahoo when former CEO Marissa Mayer had her children--first a son, then twin girls. Both times she took only two weeks of maternity leave and still worked throughout. She also enacted a widely criticized corporate ban on working from home.

All told, her actions and her leadership sent a clear message to Yahoo employees: your personal life matters far less than your job.

In the few years since, it's become clear that this kind of corporate culture did little to set Yahoo apart from its competitors and made Mayer's leadership tenure controversial at best.

We need more leaders to link family well-being with job performance

Fortunately, Zuckerberg and other major corporate leaders are beginning to understand the close connection between the well-being of an employee's family and his or her performance at work.

Workers who intentionally take time off, both on a daily basis as well as during vacations and for major events like the birth of a child, are far more focused, efficient, and productive when they're on the clock. They tend to have higher job satisfaction and are less likely to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Now we just need more individuals--and high-profile leaders like Zuckerberg--to turn these principles into behaviors and actions. Then, more and more Americans will be empowered to follow suit, and both our families and our businesses will benefit.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017
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