Netflix, the largest pay streaming service in the country, made waves Tuesday when it announced a re-tooling of its maternity leave policy for employees.
Under the new policy, employees who become new mothers and fathers will be entitled to unlimited maternity and paternity leave for the first year after their child’s birth. The policy also applies to employees who adopt children.
“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” Tawni Cranz, the company’s chief talent officer, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
The policy will allow employees to return to work on a full- or part-time basis and leave whenever they want within the first year. Management will work with employees to cover job responsibilities during their absence, and the company will continue to pay workers who take advantage of the maternity and paternity leave as usual.
The move has been praised by some in the tech sphere as a “game changer,” one that could have a trickle-down effect to other companies at a time when corporate America is trying to strike a balance between profit, productivity and employee welfare. Nowhere is that more true than Silicon Valley where companies have, at times, been criticized for taking a hard line against workers who are expected to find their own work-life balance or abandon it altogether for the betterment of the product.
Tuesday’s announcement was just the latest by Netflix in placing the work-life balance in the hands of its employees by offering things like unlimited paid leave and, now, unlimited parental leave. But some caution that offering too much of a good thing could backfire in the long run, causing unforeseen headaches by creating more work and stress for those who are left to pick up the slack.
Read more: Who Controls Your Work-Life Balance?
Some are even worried that the unlimited paid time off that Netflix and others have been prescribing might cause some employees to burn out by not taking advantage of leave time in order to keep up appearances around the office and stay on the good side of management.
“Companies that have instituted unlimited vacation often find that employees end up taking less time off than they did when they had well-defined vacation allowances,” wrote L. V. Anderson, an associate editor for the website Slate. “What’s more, employees feel guilty for the time they do take off … if that new mom down the hall came back full-time after only six weeks of leave, will you look like a slacker if you take four months and ramp back up with a three-day-a-week schedule?”
Those who do take advantage of the policy face another potential setback: Companies, especially those in the tech space, tend to change things very fast, and workers who take advantage of the paid time off could find themselves walking into a very different environment than the one they left 12 months prior. Worse, they could find they’re not welcome back at work at all.
“Think of all the things that could change with your company in the time you were gone, particularly in a fast-growing company like Netflix,” wrote Natt Garun for The Next Web. “New team members, products, strategies — all the things that may find you irrelevant by the time you walk back into office.”
To their credit, at least Netflix is doing something about maternal leave. In the United States, federal law requires companies provide parents with 12 weeks of leave. Most opt to go back to work because the government doesn’t require companies to pay them under the leave law.
Only a handful of states — including California and New Jersey — explicitly require companies pay their workers for maternal leave. There hasn’t been a movement at the federal level to adopt that standard on a national scale since the early 1990s — and given the current political climate, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.
So where the government has failed to address the needs of new parents, companies that seek to adopt and retain top talent have stepped in. Is the Netflix policy too broad? Maybe. Will it hurt the company more than it helps? It might. At least Netflix is trying — instead of deriding it as a potential headache in the making, the company should be praised for going out on a limb to promote the welfare of its employees. It will be an interesting litmus test, one that will be closely followed by its partners and competitors in the tech space, and one that hopefully will be adopted in some part on a larger scale.
Mathew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.