Person County Manager Heidi York believes that when it comes to family-friendly workplaces, government can lead by example—especially in a smaller, tight-knit community.
“Government has a role to lead and set an example for other employers in the community, and these family-friendly employment policies are very easy to implement while also boosting employee morale, which is something we in government get a bad rap for,” she says. “Person County Government employs 400 individuals. We’re one of the large employers in our community. A lot of nonprofits and small businesses look to the county to see what we offer.”
That’s why York created and championed a paid parental leave policy for county employees, which went into effect in February. Under the policy, employees get 30 days of fully paid parental leave following a birth or adoption.
York says she started thinking about paid parental leave when she noticed that a lot of employers, including more nonprofits, were beginning to offer similar policies.
“I have two kids but mine are older—10 and five—so it’s not personal for me,” York says. “However, I can completely appreciate the additional stress that new parents are facing.”
She says the policy passed quickly and easily by the Board of Commissioners, who understood the value paid leave has in attracting and retaining workers. The policy itself is very short—only a few sentences—and allows full-time regular employees who are new parents and intend to return to full-time work to take 30 days of fully paid parental leave.
York, who approves leave for her employees, says before the paid leave policy went into effect, she noticed that several moms were returning to work after just six weeks off, because that’s all the time they were able to take between vacation and sick time.
“I am a big empathizer, and so I would wonder what that had to feel like,” says York, who was able to take 12 weeks off with each of her children.
So far, York says employees have been excited about the policy, especially the parents who’ve used it.
Person County Recreation, Arts and Parks Director John Hill and his wife Erin had their first child—a baby boy named Rollins—in August. John is taking his paid parental leave right away, and then will continue to be home with his daughter through unpaid FMLA leave when his wife, who has no paid leave, returns to work.
John says he and his wife are grateful they can use his paid leave to stretch the length of time he and his wife are able to be home with their baby.
“Now we’re really able to stretch it out,” John says.
He is particularly thankful that he and his wife can postpone having their daughter in daycare, which is expensive.
John says having access to paid leave makes him feel like his employer cares for him and values him and his family.
“It makes me feel appreciated. That’s the number one thing,” he says. “And even though my wife doesn’t work for them, she feels appreciated.”
Hill, who has a staff of nine year-round and a part-time and seasonal staff of up to 70, says he wants his staff to feel like a team and a family. He hopes by taking leave, he can be an example for his staff.
“Me taking leave and not hesitating to take leave ultimately tells them ‘hey, this is the guy who leads us and he’s going to take care of his family.’ Because my family is important, and I want them to feel like I know their family is important.”
As a department head, Hill says he believes paid parental leave will help with recruitment and retention when he looks for new employees.
“When we do get candidates for jobs, we can tell them about our leave during the interview process. This is an incentive well worth thousands of dollars,” he says.
“I think this is a draw particularly for young people, who don’t seem to be drawn to the public sector so readily,” she says. “The value of retaining my employees… it’s difficult to articulate, but when I get good employees here, I want to keep them. It’s a win-win for both of us.”
Sample Benefits – Person County:
- Paid parental leave of 30 days
- Paid volunteer leave of up to 24 hours per fiscal year
- Health, dental and vision insurance (with up to 100 percent coverage paid by the county for the employee depending on the plan for health and dental)
- Paid annual, sick and holiday leave
- Access to a gym