It’s all about the people and how to retain them

No matter the industry, organizations are always aiming to improve how they attract and retain high- performing and highly engaged people. In Northeast Ohio, we’re faced with an undeniable “war for talent,” and companies are looking for any edge or differentiating factor to set themselves apart and continue to foster employee engagement.

One immediate way to accomplish this is for companies to re-evaluate whether there are opportunities to better align their benefit offerings with the needs of its current and prospective employees.

At EY, we recently took this mindset and improved our parental leave policies. Why? The No. 1 reason was to create even greater equality — both inside and outside of the office. As the definition of “family” evolves, it is time to implement equal parental-leave policies that better support all women and men in the workplace.

Our new policy extends paid parental leave to 16 weeks for eligible parents — both male and female, birth parents and adoptive. This is an increase from our prior policy, which allotted 12 weeks for birth mothers and six weeks for dads and adoptive parents.

Equitable responsibility 

EY’s global generational research of workers at companies in various industries found that men and women have more equitable roles at home, which ideally should relate back to benefits. Managing work-life harmony has become more difficult, especially among millennial parents — men and women — who are juggling family life in a time when most are entering management roles.

As an organization whose workforce is two-thirds millennials, we see the challenges they face on a daily basis. This is paired with the pressure to succeed in an “always-on” culture. Most millennials in the survey indicated they’re willing to change jobs or give up a promotion for work-life balance. And actually, more men than women said they would change jobs to better manage work and family.

Understanding that couples share the responsibility of having careers while raising their families, it’s vital we treat each parent the same. And by addressing parental leave, we’re helping to ensure the responsibility of child care doesn’t necessarily fall on women, allowing them a greater chance to advance their careers.

Developing equal policies relays the message that no one parent’s career is more significant than the other’s and broadens the leadership talent pipeline possibilities.

To validate, EY and the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a global survey that explored gender equity issues within executive-level positions. The survey found countries with the highest percentages of women in leadership offered fathers 11 times more paternity leave days than those countries with the lowest percentages. We’re not doing anyone any favors by only extending leave for mothers and not fathers.

Reward to retain 

Not only will exploring ways to improve benefits help employees, it will create greater retention for the company. EY’s most recent internal employee survey found parents in our offices are among our most engaged employees. We want to retain these people, and if it means extending leave or instilling new benefits, it’s well worth the investment.

Employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to companies who reward them. And with retaining top talent being a major concern for most corporations today, developing more rewards or enhancing existing programs is one of the more favorable solutions.

We’ve also noticed increased engagement when both men and women take parental leave. Female leadership is increased, and colleagues who work in team structures instill trust in each other to perform while team members take time to be with their new or growing families.

Employees who take leave come back refreshed, happy and enthusiastic to rejoin teams and drive success.

Time to lead

 There is still work to be done in the U.S., as well as right here in Northeast Ohio. The U.S. is only one of three countries in the world without statutory paid family leave. According to the SHRM 2015 Employer Benefits Survey, 21 percent of U.S. companies are now providing paid maternity leave and slightly more than 17 percent are providing paid paternity leave.

While these numbers have increased over the years, the figures are still disappointing compared to our international counterparts.

For EY, culture starts with really caring about what matters most to our employees, and we don’t see any reason why our policies shouldn’t reflect that sentiment. When we began considering updating our parental leave policy, our management was onboard from the start. This helped set the tone around the policy to help drive acceptance and engagement from our employees.

It’s no secret that particular benefits vary from company to company. What is most important is really understanding and aligning your benefit offerings to what makes a difference in the minds and hearts of your employees.

Whether revised parental leave policies or developing new or enhanced employee reward/incentive programs, allowing today’s employees the opportunity to live a full life at work and at home will only establish a more engaged, productive workforce in Northeast Ohio.

Jerry Gootee is Akron office managing partner for Ernst & Young, LLP. Visit