Why Netflix Should Be Wary of “Unlimited” Parental Leave | Vol. 2 / No 40.3

Will it work out as they're hoping? Photo: Netflix
Will it work out as they’re hoping? Photo: Netflix

Will Netflix’s new all-you-want parental leave backfire? Only time will tell.


In the news yesterday it came out that Netflix is feeling, well, progressive lately. And so they should:

“…today we’re introducing an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.”

And that, by the way, is at full pay: “We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.

And that is great news for Netflix employees. America’s maternity leave policies are the worst in the western world, with only twelve unpaid weeks mandated by the federal government, and with only three of fifty states offering any paid leave at all. And don’t get me started on paternity leave, because god forbid that kind of anarchist claptrap take place, right? Sorry, anyway.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sure it’s going to work, at least not for everyone.

I was thinking about the plan today, and what kept popping into my head was this article by Haje Jan Kamps, CEO of a company called Triggertrap, published by Medium back in February. He was writing about how he tried to give his employees unlimited vacation time. More specifically, he was writing about how giving them unlimited vacation time backfired spectacularly.

...the problem wasn’t that people were taking too much holiday. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If you looked at the numbers, you could see that they weren’t even taking the number they’d been entitled to before the change. Jan Kamps explains:

Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day. The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.

And the very most importantly, by the time the end of December rolled around, I had a team that was run ragged. [emphases mine]

Now, I have a suspicion things will go similarly at Netflix in the coming year, with one mitigating factor. I suspect that those who view maternity leave as illness leave will take as much as they feel healthy taking — however much that turns out to be — and then come back part-time, and then full-time. I think very few men will take more than a couple of months.

And I think that there’s going to be a fairly high number of people who take less than they would if, say, Netflix simply told them they were entitled to a set amount.

It’s going to be hard to measure, really — I think it would be a challenge for new parents to take less leave than is mandated, even if California’s state-funded leave is one of the best at 16 weeks at 55% of their original salaries (plus 12 of unpaid leave). But with parents being paid their full salaries, Netflix may find itself doing exactly the opposite of what they quite laudably intend.

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, they may want to check out the end of Jan Kamps’s piece. The next solution they’re trying: paying bonuses to employees who take time off.


Richard Ford Burley is a writer, as well as a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s studying remix culture and the processes that generate texts. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, and feminism (and paid family leave) here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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