Hotel companies to offer newer, better parental leave options

(Hotel workers, like many others, struggle with life disruptions. Rather than lose their workers, employers are reacting.)

Starting in October, Choice Hotels International began offering new benefits for employees seeking parental leave, as well as caregivers who need time off. Included in the expanded policy is up to four weeks of leave for paternal, adoptive and domestic-partner parents at full pay, as well as up to 12 weeks leave for new mothers at full pay and up to four weeks of transition time to return to work for the primary caregiver, also at full pay.

The benefits, which come as an addition to Choice’s pre-existing offerings for financial support when it comes to adoptions, surrogacy and infertility treatments, were added to accommodate the needs of the workforce. They’re also a boon for hotels, which have struggled for years against high turnover, often as the result of familial changes. It was this disconnect that Choice was seeking to remedy with its new policies.

“When people ask ‘How are you doing?’ the first answer you usually get is ‘I’m busy,’” said Patrick Pacious, president and COO of Choice Hotels. “When associates go through a life transition, be it the birth of a child or anything else, that is when careers are challenged.”

Days to Miss

After acknowledging the effect of family changes on employees’ lives, Choice’s next objective was to make sure it had the right plans in place for its associates. The primary goal, according to Pacious, was making sure employees had access to policies that provided transition time to acclimate to lifestyle changes and interact with their new children. This was why instituting a 12-week period of paid leave for new mothers was a main bullet point in the plan.

This plan, according to Choice’s chief human resources officer, Patrick Cimerola, was the result of a market analysis that looked within and outside the hotel industry for inspiration.

“We wanted to be competitive, but more so we wanted to be industry leading with this,” Cimerola said. “We want to go beyond words of caring.”

Choice isn't the only hotel company offering new policies; other companies are following suit.

Cimerola also said the new rules will help Choice acquire talent in the future, something Pacious equated with Choice’s overarching workforce push. The new standards also include updated rules for caregiver leave, such as four weeks of intermittent paid leave per year for employees caring for eligible family members. Children, adults and elder care all factor into this offering, something Pacious said he hopes will take some of the burden off of juggling long commutes to work and a personal life dominated by caring for others.

“Where our properties and offices are located is important,” Pacious said. “We are attracting talented folks who often commute by rail. Many don’t own cars, and it’s important in an industry like ours that we have the type of work space that is accommodating to them and retain it with strong HR policies.”

Adopting a New Ideal

Choice isn’t the only company expanding its employee benefits package. Hilton Worldwide recently announced a new plan, slated to go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, that will allow company team members to be eligible for up to $10,000 in reimbursements for adoption assistance expenses, with no cap to the number of adoptions.

In addition, Hilton is offering two weeks of paid parental leave for adoptive parents. The new changes came about after Hilton fielded what Laura Fuentes, the company’s SVP, talent, rewards and people analytics, described as a “resounding call” for more flexibility in its leave policy.

Hotel workers have been heard loud and clear -- they want more flexibility.

“We recognize that our team members form family units in many different ways, one of them being adoption,” Fuentes said. “Which is why as of January 1, we will be providing an industry-leading adoption assistance benefit to our team members at our corporate offices and owned and managed properties in the U.S.”

Hilton had its own new set of parental leave policies take place Jan. 1 of this year, offering a total of 10 weeks of fully paid leave for new mothers who give birth, among other benefits. Fuentes said that these policies are an extension of Hilton’s plan to attract and retain talented employees. This attitude extends to other initiatives launched from within the company, such as its GED assistance program, designed to help Hilton employees earn their high school equivalency, as well as 10-day advance scheduling standards for hourly workers and plans to expand its remote workforce opportunities.

Mostly, Fuentes said these new policies are an opportunity for the private sector to lead by example in offering family-focused benefits for workers.

“Historically, industries have not extended generous benefits to the hourly workforce—not even in sectors like hospitality that employ a high percentage of hourly employees,” Fuentes said. “For us, the vast majority of our workforce exists at the property level, so we didn’t have to think twice about including them in our benefits.”