June 26 2014

Paid Leave and Employee Morale

Carrie L. Lukas

In yesterday’s New York Daily News, IWF’s friend, SE Cupp wrote a great piece about the tradeoffs with family leave policies.  She cited important research from business groups on the potential unintended consequences of mandated paid leave:

...the NFIB Research Foundation examined multiple proposals to mandate paid leave and concluded it could cost between 12,000 and 16,000 jobs over several years, and cost billions in lost economic output. "There is no way to force employers to provide an expensive benefit without forcing some of them to make cuts elsewhere," said NFIB State Director Bill Vernon. "The result will be some combination of fewer hours for employers, weaker productivity for businesses and fewer opportunities for job seekers."

This is important information for people to have – so often it’s easy to see the benefits of such government mandates (more paid leave would be great!) and overlook the costs of such proposals (lower take-home pay and fewer jobs, especially for women). 

Yet I disagree with one item that SE Cupp puts in the benefit column for paid leave.  She writes:

Who doesn't think that this is a generous and productive policy that will make for a happier workforce and stronger families? No one who's being honest.

I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the workplace would be more congenial or happier if employees were all eligible for generous paid leave benefits.  In fact, having lived in Europe for several years now, I’ve seen how the opposite can occur.  Employees often seem to resent when coworkers disappear for lengthy paid time-off as more responsibilities are juggled their way.  I’ve seen eyes roll with the mention “she’s having another baby,” and annoyance that while this worker will be spending the summer at her desk in the office, her coworker will be paid to play in the park with her 4 month old.  This is especially true when you factor in that there are plenty of people (particularly women) who end up not having babies but wanted to, and also plenty who have no intention of having children and resent that their bosses think they might disappear for a year and therefore can’t be taken seriously. 

I’d even be carefully making assumptions about stronger families.  It seems logical, but one confounding question in Europe (particularly in Germany, where I currently live) has been why generous public support systems for parents (including paid leave mandates) have coincided with a decline in birth rates.  Perhaps their families are strong, but there are very few babies resulting from them.

 
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