When Ryan Ewalt's first two children were born, the 37-year-old said he was only able to take one or two weeks of paid vacation time to help his wife after returning home from the hospital. But by the time his son William was born in August 2018, the assistant vice president of service operations at Unum was able to take advantage of the company's new six-week, paid parental leave policy.
For Ewalt, he wasn't just able to create memories with his new, larger family; he also was able to take care of his two oldest daughters — Ella, 5, and Annie, 3 — to give his wife more time with their newborn son and a much-needed break. They took trips to the Riverpark and the Tennessee Aquarium in those weeks without work email and distractions.
"Six weeks is a game changer," he says. "It made a huge difference in the experience for us in a real positive way."
Unfortunately, Ewalt's experience is an exception in America's workforce today. The United States is consistently ranked below other first-world countries in terms of family-friendly workplace policies.
A 2015 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management found only 17 percent of employers surveyed provide fathers with paid parental leave. Nearly 50 percent of working parents report that they have turned down a job offer because it would not have worked for their families, and only 39 percent of workers in the U.S. report access to paid family leave for the birth of a child, according to a 2014 White House study.
Unum is one of the largest employers in Chattanooga with roughly 2,800 employees just at the Chattanooga campus and 10,000 at campuses globally. Providing family-friendly policies for employees is not just a perk, says Liz Ahmed, executive vice president of people and communications at Unum. These types of policies are benefits used to recruit and retain the best workforce.
The company offers a "suite" of benefits, including six weeks of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, adoption or fostering; short-term disability coverage for moms following birth, Milk Stork services for moms traveling for business who need to ship breast milk home, mothers' rooms for breastfeeding at work, a "Working Mom Network" that supports Unum women navigating work and families, child-care savings accounts, an adoption financial assistance program, contributions toward a child's education through a 529 plan; work/life balance program that provides employees assistance and support, a student debt-relief program for employees with student loans or parents who have taken out loans for their children. Unum also provides 28 days paid-time off for first-year employees, including holidays and personal days, with additional PTO available over time.
"For us, this should not be an exception," Ahmed says. "We believe these benefits are critical to us being able to retain and attract the best talent. I don't see them as perks, but as critical pieces of the value proposition that we have with our employees."
At Unum, 59 percent of the employees who have taken paid parental leave were women and 41 percent were men. Those numbers include people who have taken leave for birth, adoption and fostering since the benefit started in 2018.
Other major employers in Chattanooga, including the state's biggest health insurer and the city's biggest bank, also have adopted programs to make their workplaces more family friendly.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee offers many of the same benefits as Unum. The company offers education reimbursements, free online courses, competitive pay packages and 401K plans, comprehensive health care coverage with 80 percent of employee's costs covered every year, child-care discounts, elder care resources, free fitness and recreation facilities with a wellness incentive program and flexible work opportunities. More than 1,800 workers, or 28 percent of employees, work from home.
At the beginning of 2018, BlueCross began offering eight weeks of paid leave to birth parents and four weeks of paid leave to non-birth parents, including those adopting a child. They also provide up to $5,000 in adoption assistance.
These policies are not just for the traditional nuclear family, too. Both Unum and BlueCross recently received 100 percent scores on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality index, or the CEI, the educational arm of the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
Unum and BlueCross were two of the four Tennessee companies to earn the highest score for having corporate policies that support LGBTQ workers.
Ron Harris, BlueCross vice president of diversity and inclusion, said the recognition was the result of years of intentional efforts by the company and its leadership.
"Our commitment to diversity makes us stronger as an organization, and we will continue to evolve and improve in ways that support all of the people we serve," Harris says.
First Tennessee Bank has been one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers sinc 1995, according to Working Mother magazine's annual list.
First Tennessee upgraded its leave policies in 2016 to give employee moms 14 fully paid weeks off, regardless of whether they work full- or part-time. Spouses and domestic partners get four weeks of leave for a new child, as do those who foster a child, use a surrogate or adopt.
First Tennessee also has been one the 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption for 10 consecutive years. The company's Working Parents resource group and the counseling and referral services offered through its employee-assistance program serve caregivers of all types.
"First Horizon (the parent company of First Tennessee Bank) is honored to have been recognized for our family-friendly culture," says John Daniel, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at First Horizon. "We work hard to provide the tools and benefits to help employees fulfill their personal and work responsibilities."
A family friendly mindset
A company doesn't need to have thousands of employees on the payroll and be headquartered in downtown to provide a family friendly work environment, though.
Anson Hyde, owner of The Bread Basket, said he makes sure all of his 35 employees across The Bread Basket's three locations know family comes first.
"It is kind of in our culture, and we try and take care of each other," Hyde says.
Acknowledging they aren't perfect, Hyde said he tries to be flexible with employees — most of whom are part time. If an employee needs to take care of their child because school was canceled that day, they can leave and take care of their family.
In 2016, The Bread Basket signed up to take part in Mayor Andy Berke's "Family Friendly Workplace Challenge" along with other area companies, including BlueCross; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Chattanooga State Community College; EPB; Tennessee American Water; Co. LAB; Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce; Epiphany Day Spa & Brow Couture; Ovalle's Catering Company; and CO.STARTERS.
While Hyde said no new policies started at The Bread Basket following the challenge, feedback from employees seemed to show everyone was content and happy with the family first mindset at the small company.
"Family comes first," Hyde says. "But they feel like they have a family here, too."
At Unum, Ahmed said it's a good idea for any company to review the benefits and policies they offer to employees often to make sure they still hold value. It's important to provide benefits that make sense for the employee population, she says.
There are many resources out there and "best practices," so companies don't have to start from zero if they want to provide better work-life balance for their employees, Ahmed added.
"We need to clear out any obstacles that are in the way of being able to have that balance," she says. "It's the simple things, like having the space to go where it's private [for mothers to pump breast milk], so it's not something the person has to worry about. I want them to be able to have a great job at a great company."