Sir Richard Branson was in the headlines recently as he aims to go higher and farther. His latest venture isn’t rocket-powered, however, it’s people-powered. The airline mogul, in an attempt to better the quality of life on Earth, has ascended to a height unparalleled by mere mortals by providing fully paid paternity leave up to a year for his workers.
Understanding the value of those first precious months between parents and newborns, Branson has established a perk precedent. Is Branson generous? As a philanthropist and a boss, he certainly qualifies, but it is not mere generosity that is driving this ambitious entrepreneur’s decisions. Don’t be naive; this is a business decision whatever else it might be. And here’s why it makes good business sense.
If you’re weighing your options about which job to take and one of those jobs is in Branson’s Virgin empire, your decision just got a little bit easier. This is true whether or not you plan to have kids. It’s true whether or not you even like kids. The employee benefit is indicative of a company that cares about its labor force. The move is as much symbolic as it is actual, branding Branson as an employer who cares about quality-of-life issues — just consider the unlimited vacation policy, for instance.
Who is going to jump ship with such an esteemed captain? Branson just struck a blow to poachers and headhunters. It will take more than a duffel bag of cash to woo a Branson worker, who is being made to feel more like part of a family than part of a mercenary force.
Newborns and a good night’s sleep, as any new parent knows, are incompatible. Rather than drag groggy, overcaffeinated employees functioning at about 50 percent into the office every morning, Branson is opting to bring in fresh, motivated substitutes working at 110 percent, who understand that if they succeed, they might find a place elsewhere in the company down the road.
The problem with temps is that they usually don’t ever have time to get up to speed. A week here and two weeks there probably don’t provide enough training to adequately perform the duties of many jobs. But over the course of a year, a fill-in has the opportunity to gain confidence in the required responsibilities of the job.
The U.S., the only developed country with no guaranteed paid leave for mothers or fathers, remains a backwater of the civilized world. As much as Americans may gripe about being undercut by cheap child labor in South and East Asia, are essentially Western Europe’s sweatshop — mostly non-union workers toiling with little or no vacation, few sick days, unlivable minimum wages and no right to stay home with our newly born children. But if and only if more companies follow Branson’s lead, maternity and paternity leave will become norms, not outliers.
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