Five surprising things about maternity and paternity leave that every SME boss should know

The decision by Mark Zuckerberg to take two months off work as paternity leave has grabbed the business news headlines. How can the man who runs one of the world’s most valuable, dynamic and most closely-watched companies be out of the office for eight weeks?

Facebook gives its employees in the US up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave, which they can take either all at once or throughout the first year of their child’s life. It’s certainly generous by US standards, but paternity and maternity leave varies greatly around the world and other CEOs have taken much less time off. Almost half (47 per cent) the developed countries in the world mandate paternity leave of some sort, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Here are five instances which have served to shape the popular debate.

(1) Marisa Mayer

Another tech boss, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, was widely criticised earlier in November when she revealed that she would be taking just a fortnight maternity leave. She even added that she’ll be “working throughout” the time that she gives birth to twins later in 2015. 

Her announcement was “disappointing”, according to Anne Weisberg, senior vice-president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Mayer took the same amount of time off when she had her first child in September 2012. In fact, other Yahoo staff are entitled to four months paid maternity leave, after the company recently doubled the time period.

(2) Sweden

The Scandinavian country offers almost all fathers two months paternity leave (as part of a total of 16 given to both parents) which is already one of the most generous in the world – but its government has recently announced that it will now increase this to three months. Germany gives new parents 14 months of parental leave on 65 per cent of their salary.

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(3) Virgin

This summer Richard Branson announced that new fathers at the company will be given up to a year’s paternity leave on full salary. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is. It is only those who have been at Virgin for four years or more who will receive 100 per cent of their pay, with newer members receiving an amount related to their length of service. Secondly, it only applies to employees of Virgin Management, in other words about 140 people.

(4) Far East 

Korea and Japan have some of the most generous paternity leave with 52.6 and 52 weeks respectively, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 

While these figures certainly challenge the stereotype of the workaholic Korean or Japanese “salaryman”, only around two per cent of fathers in these countries actually take their full entitlement, compared to 90 per cent of Swedish dads. 

The most generous company must surely be Netflix which, this summer, unveiled an unlimited leave policy for new mums 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.

(5) Stingy countries 

According to the ILO, out of 185 countries and territories surveyed, just two don’t provide maternity leave with a legal requirement for cash benefits of some kind. One is Papua New Guinea – and the other? The US. That’s right – one of the most developed countries in the world with the largest economy and a proud history of human rights has one of the least generous maternity arrangements. 

For fathers, although countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia give no time off at all, high on the mean list is Tunisia, where you’ll get just one day off on full pay. Just time to learn how to change a nappy.

Streaming giant Netflix joins other firms in offering staff unlimited parental leave

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