Facebook HR changes inspire Toronto company to reconsider leave policies

After reading Facebook Inc.’s announcement of extended family and bereavement leave, one Canadian company was inspired to rethink its own human resources policies.

“Wow. Honestly, I’m a CEO of a small company in Canada,” Leigh Himel, founder and co-chief executive officer of marketing agency Gravity Partners Ltd. in Toronto, commented on Facebook’s post. “No marketing agencies I know give any parental leave. I actually just sent this to my business partner for us to reconsider our own policies. ‪#Respect”

Himel’s comments follow Facebook’s announcement this week that it had doubled its bereavement leave offerings, allowing employees up to 20 paid days when an immediate family member dies and up to 10 days following an extended family member’s death. The company has also introduced six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative and three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness, such as a child with the flu.

Read: Facebook boosts bereavement leave to 20 days

When Himel was working at her first job in marketing, her young daughter got sick. “Not only could I not go home, she had to sleep on the floor in my office with a fever because we had a very important client meeting and it was implied I was going to get fired if I didn’t,” she tells Benefits Canada. “I think we’re moving into a time where that’s just not acceptable anymore.”

Instead, she says, companies need to “find the right balance between profit and people,” and predicts Facebook’s policies will give the company a competitive advantage when hiring. The 877 comments on the announcement post support that theory, with several commenters wishing their employer would follow Facebook’s lead and some even suggesting the company should open an office in their area. 

Read: Starbucks expands parental leave for U.S. employees

Six years old, Gravity Partners is a small company, with just over 50 employees, says Himel. So far, it handles bereavement and family leave requests on one-to-one basis and encourage employees to take time off if they have a serious health issue or need to travel overseas for a funeral. “So we have flexibility right now, but it’s not a formalized process,” she says.

But after reading Facebook’s post, Himel is seriously considering introducing a formal maternity leave top-up benefit. ”We have our first employee who’s going on to maternity leave in April, and there aren’t any advertising agencies that I know that offer topped up maternity leave. . . . Rethinking that sort of thing is an important thing to do, even as small-business owners.”

When asked whether she feels pressure to compete with big companies like Facebook in terms of benefits and salary, Himel says she doesn’t bother doing so, since they have more resources. “To compete with larger companies, we have to think differently about the work we do for our clients. We also have to think differently about how we treat our employees and how we provide them with things they won’t get anywhere else.”

Read: Quebec proposes health tax relief for small employers