Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture

Article excerpt

Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture. Mindy Fried. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1998. 207 pp. ISBN 156639-647-6. $16.95 paper.

On August 3, 1993, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted. Although the FMLA gave some U.S. employees the first federal guarantee of job protection following leaves taken to care for newborn or newly adopted children, the United States still lags behind other Western industrialized countries in its parental and family leave policy. Both before and after the passage of the FMLA, lobbyists for the business community contended that such comparisons are unfair. The business community argues that the United States takes a different approach to work and family policy that is, in fact, more effective for both employees and employers-the approach of flexibility. In Taking Time, Mindy Fried offers a case study of how such flexibility works in practice when employees are confronted with strong organizational norms to work extensive hours as proof of their value and commitment to the company.

Fried examines the use of parental leave policies within a large financial company, which she names Premium, Inc. Fried describes observations, discussions, and interviews that she recorded as a participant observer for 12 months in 1993 and 1994. Her field research took place in two departments with 600 employees in a 17,000 employee corporation. This company represents one of the U.S. companies on the forefront of offering family-friendly policies, with generous parental leave policies and other supports that better enable employees to meet conflicting work and family needs. Nonetheless, the availability of these more generous parental leave policies is not guaranteed; their use is dependent on supervisor discretion. The primary thesis that emerges from Frieds study centers on how employer discretion works to limit employees' willingness to make full use of leave policies. In the corporate world of Premium, Inc., overtime represents the prime signal of commitment and productivity. Within such an environment, Fried finds that employees must assess both short-and long-term consequences to advancement and job security as they decide whether to take full advantage of parental leave policies. …