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Ikea’s new parental leave policy is sweet (and Swedish)

It’s not just the Swedish meatballs and inexpensive, unpronounceable furniture that we’re loving. This holiday season, our fave affordable home-furnishing store, Ikea, took a page from Santa’s playbook. The company gifted its U.S. workers with a new paid family leave policy that’s a stunner compared to most American company standards.

Ikea will ring in the New Year on Jan. 1 by granting 14,000 workers — salaried and hourly — up to four paid months of parental leave. That’s mothers and fathers who are birth, foster or adoptive parents.

The policy shift is a huge and welcome change to Ikea’s previous parental leave program for its U.S. workers. According to the Associated Press, the old policy granted just five days of paid leave to new parents, then up to eight weeks of paid disability leave for new mothers.

What’s behind the massive, family-friendly shift? Ikea says that the new parental leave policy is far more in line with its “Swedish roots,” and better reflects the company’s vision “to create a better everyday life for all people.”

More: How U.S. maternity leave policies compare to other countries (INFOGRAPHIC) 

The policy also won’t hurt when it comes to attracting (and keeping) loyal workers in an iffy post-election economy, especially since the leave will apply to both salaried and hourly workers — a bonus almost unheard of in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reports that Lars Petersson, the head of Ikea’s U.S. operations, expects the program to reduce turnover and increase productivity considerably.

We tend to agree with Petersson, as the fine print looks as good as the headlines. With the new policy, all employees who’ve worked at Ikea for a minimum of one year will take home full pay for the first six weeks of parental leave, then half of their pay rate for an additional six weeks. The deal is even sweeter for Ikea employees who’ve been with the company for more than three years. They’re now eligible for (you might want to sit down) eight weeks at their usual pay, and a subsequent eight weeks at half-rate.

We sure wish more U.S. companies would follow suit with generous parental leave policies that benefit both hourly and salaried workers. Companies like Etsy and Netflix have recently trotted out improved paid-timeoff policies for new parents, but benefits for hourly workers pale in comparison to those of salaried workers. Few American companies have been willing to address the growing economic divide between their hourly workers and those on salary. We’re hoping Ikea’s bold move will spur other organizations to create more favorable policies for all, and not just a handful of workers.

More: People without kids need to back off — maternity leave is for moms

Considering that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not legislate guaranteed paid time off for new mothers, it’s no wonder that Ikea’s new parental leave policy is garnering plenty of positive attention. After all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13 percent of U.S. workers were eligible for paid family leave in 2016. Still, Ikea’s U.S. policy shift in parental leave doesn’t come close to the (wait for it) 68 weeks of parental leave that Ikea workers receive in Sweden, where the government provides subsidies for new parents. Swoon. We can dream, can’t we? In the meantime, we’re happy to keep shopping at Ikea. Pass the lingonberry jam.

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