Company benefits have been a hot topic in the tech industry, and now more than ever, paternity leave is in the spotlight. Unpaid family leave has been mandated by law since the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, but according to a study by the Boston College of Work and Family, fathers who do take advantage of it typically take no more than two weeks. Despite its benefits, the study outlines that potential fears of how leave would be perceived by colleagues and the financial pressure of taking time off without pay keep the average time taken by fathers low.
In an effort to encourage new fathers to take more time-off, leaders in the tech industry such as Google, Reddit, Facebook, as well as Niantic, are embracing parental leave that provides equal paid time off to fathers as an essential benefit for their employees. Niantic’s parental leave benefit (16 weeks for all parents, including those who adopt or foster) philosophically is anchored in the core value that all parents should equally be able to take paid leave to care for a new child.
Underpinning this is a belief that employee benefits are vital to fostering a healthy work environment. Niantic approaches parental inclusion with the same philosophy: What can we do to best support new parents through the process? What does parental leave mean at Niantic, and how can the employee experience for new parents improve? To begin finding answers, we approached three of our own senior leaders on the Finance team who all took leave in succession this past year.
Kriss Chow, Niantic’s Corporate Controller, recently returned from paid parental leave after caring for his second child. According to Kriss, preparation was key to successful time-off. He started planning for his absence several weeks in advance - “the earlier, the better” - and scheduled regular one-on-one meetings with his manager and staff to figure out how to transition tasks to other team members. “Laying the foundation early on was critical,” Kriss said, “We had to communicate to figure out who would be the right person to pick up certain responsibilities and run with them. It was good that we left enough time to get those transitions done.”
Brian Noriega, Director of Accounting, took 15 weeks of continuous parental leave for the birth of his second child as well. Prior to his leave, he took on one of Kriss’ responsibilities well before Kriss left because “it can be helpful to transition early, especially if a task is new or complicated., My recommendation would be to do it at least a week ahead of time so there’s some overlap.” Brian’s thoughtful approach helped alleviate the common fear of work duties falling through the cracks. “For my own leave, I made an Asana list where I could see the tasks a team member was already working on independently, as well as my own responsibilities that needed to get delegated. It’s helpful to have something tangible for the team to reference while you are out because most people prefer not to call you once you’ve left. Having a list to circle back to alleviates the pressure of trying to remember a conversation.” This highlights the importance of detailing who is now in charge of what as a means to avoid tasks being left out, duplicated, or overwhelming. Brian noted that having supportive team members with the right essential skills allowed him to take a longer parental leave.
Head of Finance, Jeff Shouger, is a first-time dad who decided to take his full leave to be there for his newborn and wife. When preparing for parental leave, he emphasized the importance of having the ability to “build a team that is strong and supportive - bottom to top. With more than one person out due to paternal leave and never having missed a beat, it says a lot about the team. Any company can do it and still be able to deliver at a high level. You just need to plan appropriately and have the support of the company.” Taking parental leave for an extended period of time is daunting for a lot of new fathers, but they can feel reassured if an adequate support system is in place. The experience “brought out the best in everybody” Jeff recalled, as the team was able to successfully accomplish their upcoming projects despite the heavier workload.
Niantic also offers flexibility by allowing intermittent parental leave, meaning employees can break up the time taken off instead of taking leave continuously for sixteen weeks. This flexibility allows for a better work/life balance and makes the transition back to work a lot smoother. Home responsibilities may start to affect work performance, as Kriss states, “without parental leave and time to adjust, that stress is something that could be brought to work, something that could take away from thinking about the projects we should be [thinking about].” Kriss laughed, “I barely got more than four hours of sleep a day for the first few weeks. I’m not sure how much use I would have been.”
Though none of these new fathers had much sleep, they all attest that time spent with their newborns in the first few months was irreplaceable and valuable. The presence of both parents during the first few weeks has long term positive effects for the child, parents, and home life. The Department of Labor’s Policy Brief on Parental Leave shows that fathers who take longer leaves to bond with their children improve their child’s health and development. The brief also details that fathers are more likely to share chores and engage in childcare down the road, providing better work-life balance for everyone in the family. “It’s time [with your newborn] that you can’t get back,” Jeff stated when asked about the value of parental leave, a shared sentiment amongst all new parents.
Parental leave is a big contributor to well-being and happiness and all of the fathers we spoke to valued the time that they spent with their new family member. Niantic is committed to supporting families every step of the way and we’re improving on what we can do to make it even better. We believe that cultivating a workplace where our employees are supported and included is essential to creating great products our community will love.
-The Niantic People team