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Counselor Commentary: Get Creative With Benefits

New-media company Netflix made an announcement this week that will surely have a major impact on the organization’s bottom line for years to come. It wasn’t the next Orange is the New Black. Nor was it a partnership with a content creator to provide new movies on the streaming service. Rather, it was an announcement about employee benefits. Netflix said on Tuesday that it was starting an unlimited leave policy for new mothers and fathers for the first year after the birth or adoption of a child.

As part of the new policy, employees will receive their normal pay. They will be able to return to work part time or full time, and they may also return to work and then take additional time off, if needed. The new Netflix policy far exceeds typical leave rules at U.S. companies, where there are few federal policies aimed at working parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 does guarantee employees at companies of a certain size 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field,” said Tawni Cranz, chief talent officer at Netflix, in a blog posted to the company’s website. “This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.”

Netflix – whose stock price incidentally currently sits at an all-time high and has more than doubled within the past year – espouses a corporate culture that empowers employees to own their decisions about both the work they do every day and also how and when they’ll work. It was something that Cranz made sure to point out at the beginning of her blog post about parental leave. “At Netflix, we work hard to foster a ‘freedom and responsibility’ culture that gives our employees context about our business and the freedom to make their own decisions along with the accompanying responsibility,” she said. “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances.”

It’s a unique company that goes so far out of its way to ensure the pure happiness and satisfaction of its employees. But it’s also a necessary move today, as companies battle for skilled workers. They need to focus their attention on employee retention, and right now that means appealing to the changing needs of today’s workers. Nine-to-five behind a desk is no longer the norm – work can happen anytime and anywhere and companies should be prepared to make this an official reality for their office staff.

Of course, customers need to be serviced and there are crazy days and weeks and months where everybody on staff blows way past their normal 40 hours per week. Nobody is saying flexible schedules and Netflix’s new parental leave policy means people aren’t working hard. In fact, companies that embrace these cultures find out one reality very quickly: When you truly put work decisions into employees’ hands, they tend to work harder and are more engaged.

It’s something that last week’s Counselor Best Places to Work Road Tour witnessed firsthand at many of the 13 industry companies it visited. One company, Quality Logo Products in Aurora, IL, goes so far as to have video games all around the office in addition to a pool table, air hockey table, and kids’ style blowup bounce house for the company’s nearly 100 employees to enjoy as they see fit. There’s also a freedom to come and go essentially as you please. “When people have fun at work, they do their jobs better,” says Bret Bonnet, who founded the fast-growing company while in college along with his partner Mike Wenger. “I don’t care if people work a three-day work week, as long as they get their jobs done.”