Let's get this out of the way: I love our country. I truly believe it is the land of opportunity. I've been lots of places and there is nowhere else I'd rather live.

But we have fallen behind most other countries in at least one major and extremely important way:

Maternity leave.

For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development determined that 34 advanced nations entitle mothers to 17 weeks on average of paid maternity leave... except the U.S., the only country that does not mandate nationwide statutory entitlement to paid leave.

And it gets worse. In 2014 the International Labor Organization found that out of 170 countries, all but two provide cash benefits to women during maternity leave: Papua New Guinea and the U.S.

Granted the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more workers to allow parents 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a newborn (or a family member with a serious medical condition.) While the law protects their job, in most cases the leave is unpaid (it's up to the employer.) Some do: approximately 13 percent of workers have access to some kind of paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet some companies go a lot farther.

One is Synergis, a three-time Inc. 5000 staffing and workforce management provider for mid- to large-size companies in IT and creative marketing. (Basically they provide skilled staff augmentation for companies with short- and long-term needs.)

Here is their parental leave policy:

  • Birth mothers who are also primary caregivers receive 12 weeks of paid leave.
  • Primary caregivers who are not also the birth mother receive 6 weeks paid leave.
  • Non-primary caregivers receive 2 weeks paid leave.

Sound expensive? It is. And it could also create operational challenges since most Synergis employees work in direct production roles.

So when I talked to Doug Ross, Synergis CEO, that was my first (rather direct) question.

How can you afford this?

Our intellectual property is our only real asset. People are everything.

Lots of people talk about their people being their most important asset, but if you walk the walk and provide tangible benefits supporting that belief then the payoff is absolutely huge. We've been in business for 18 years and have a number of people who have been with us for almost all of them. Culture is a huge factor, and our benefits are an important component of our overall package.

Beyond that, the cost of benefits is really not as huge as you might expect, especially when you're a growing organization like we are. And the return on that has been huge. We don't see our benefits as a problematic expense; we see providing those benefits as an essential cost of doing business.

Your paid parental leave policy covers a range of scenarios, which as I think about it makes sense.

Birth mothers aren't the only caregivers. Many people share that responsibility with their spouse. Plus there are people in adoptive situations where they're building a relationship with their new child... there are a lot of family types.

Thats why our leave policy has been an evolutionary process. We've always given the mother a lot of time off and flexibility; we started with 6 weeks of paid time off for the birth mother, doubled that to 12 weeks of paid time off at 100% salary, and added a paternity benefit and a parenting benefit. We're trying to cover all the bases.

You also say that aside from creating a great culture, there's a real return on investment.

Absolutely. Our parental leave policy -- and our other employee leave policies -- makes recruiting easier and definitely improves retention.

Ultimately it starts with our vision for our company. Our goal is to:

  • Be the supplier of choice for the companies we do business with,
  • Be the most admired company in the staffing industry, and
  • Be the best place to work in the staffing industry.

Those aren't just philosophical desires or goals. They pay off in tangible ways. They help us attract the best people and it helps us keep them. Culture, lifestyle, earning opportunities... all those make it much easier to recruit outstanding people.

Keep in mind we compete against huge companies, so our culture is a great differentiator. How we treat our people makes us stand out not just as employers but also in our space -- last year alone we grew close to 25%.

Since you provide so much leave time, how do you deal with absences from work?

The fact people will transition in and out is expected. We've structured ourselves to accommodate it. And in a larger sense there are a number of things that can prevent people from being at work. It can occasionally be a challenge, but it's not a negative.

Plus many of our employees don't use all the leave we make available. We end up paying out some of their PTO.

You hear this all the time, and it's true. If you hire the right people, people who are committed and motivated and eager to work hard to make a mission happen... then like us you might pay out months of unused leave because your employees are working hard to do the job that needs to get done.

As far as our parenting leave is concerned, formalizing the program was just an extension of the casual nature of the program we already had.

We want people to take time off. I've worked hard and been successful but I would have appreciated someone saying, "Hey, why don't you take a little time off and spend it with your family?"

So that's the message we're trying to send, and the kind of company we're trying to build.