Parental Leave: The Latest Way HR is Shaping a New Employee-Employer Deal


In recent months, we have seen big-name companies Netflix, Microsoft and Adobe expand paid parental leave. Far from simply putting bureaucratic HR policies on paper, these companies broke new ground for American businesses and workers. As the 21st century workplace and workforce continue to shift radically, we can expect more of the same.

Employers, up against new technology, fierce global competition, and rising health care and other costs, have made difficult choices to stay competitive … or even just to stay in business. Operating in an environment where business models can be upended overnight, companies have scaled back critical investments in workforce training and development and on long-term obligations such as pensions. 

Employees are also grappling with challenges in today’s tough business and economic climate. The nature of work has intensified, and workers face pressure to do more, and to do it faster and at advanced skill levels. Higher expectations, however, have not necessarily meant higher wages. Workers have responded to the diminishing loyalty of their employers with their own and will not hesitate to take their talents elsewhere.

This is why we have seen the decline of the long-tenured career as well as the rise of the freelance nation, the grassroots calls for equal and higher wages, and the continuing clash of traditional and new business models (think: taxis vs. Uber) that have played out in New York and other cities as dramatically as a Broadway show.

It is clear: The employee-employer compact as we have long known it no longer exists. We need a new deal that reflects the realities of work and workers today. Fortunately, HR professionals are taking on the task.

Today’s HR is about making the new workplace work. The best HR professionals are finding, recruiting and training people for jobs in a changing economy; offering more and creative benefits that better meet current workforce needs; leading workplace flexibility efforts that attract and retain top talent; engaging employees for business performance; and striving for diverse, inclusive workplaces.

Today, the most successful companies know that great HR makes great organizations. They draw clear lines between their people strategies and their business success and live up to their claims that people are their “greatest asset.”

So, going forward, we should not be surprised to find HR leaders at the helm of game-changing business decisions, as we did in the announcements from Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources Kathleen Hogan, and Adobe’s Senior Vice President of People and Places Donna Morris. (Morris is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.)

HR has one of the best vantage points in an organization and the unique responsibility to develop a people strategy that meets the goals of the business, as well as retains employees. HR guides the delicate and increasingly complicated relationship between an organization and the workers who drive its success. Put another way, HR is accountable for business’ most important asset—its people.

The latest paid parental leave moves have garnered top-level headlines, supporters and skeptics alike have weighed in, and our collective attention has moved on to other matters. But top-notch HR leaders know that the changing world of work demands a new, better deal between companies and the people who make them great—and these leaders remain focused on shaping it.

And that is good news for American businesses and workers.

Henry G. “Hank” Jackson is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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