When your coworker is expecting a baby, what do you give them? A cute onesie? Some classic baby books? How about your own paid time off?
A recent report by Good Morning America has sparked plenty of online conversation about the growing trend of colleagues donating their own paid time off to an expecting parent in the workplace, and the overwhelming consensus is that while well intentioned, colleagues shouldn't have to crowdsource a substitute for parental leave.
As plenty of Twitter users have pointed out to GMA, paid parental leave is sorely needed in the United States, but in its absence, generous co-workers are giving up their own PTO so that a new mother or father can enjoy an extra day at home with their baby.
Last month The Washington Post reported the practice is common in federal offices. "Co-workers donate them to help extend parental leave so a frazzled new mom doesn't have to go back to work six weeks after giving birth," columnist Petula Dvorak wrote.
GMA interviewed mothers in non-federal workplaces who had their maternity leaves topped up by colleagues' donations.
Jessie Sampson works for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, but Nebraska does not offer state employees dedicated paid maternity leave. The state does allow "new moms who work for the state to receive donated time once they have used their own accrued sick time" thanks to a program launched in January GMA reports.
Sampson was able to have four more weeks with her second child than she did with her first thanks to the donations of coworkers. "I had more bonding time with my child and I was able to establish a much better breastfeeding routine," Sampson told GMA. "That's time [my colleagues] could be spending relaxing and to give it to me to spend time with my child, I'm really grateful for that."
Sampson is greatful, but Twitter users are outraged by the idea that programs like this should even have to exist, and point out that the colleagues of new parents shouldn't be sacrificing their own time off.
While well-intentioned to be sure, colleagues who donate their own paid time off may be putting themselves at risk. Research indicates that women who don't take their vacations time are eight times more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease than women who vacation twice a year, and when men at high risk for heart disease actually take their vacations they're 32% less likely to die of heart disease.
In short, we need our time off. And when colleagues feel pressured to donate theirs so a new parent can take a leave, they're putting themselves at risk of burning out. That's simply not fair, and it's actually not good for workplace productivity either.
"The mental and physical benefits of taking time off work include improved sleep, a better headspace, more clarity and increased creativity," Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a New York City based psychologist told NBC News. "By taking time off, you'll find a renewed sense of purpose, more energy to carry out tasks and in general, an overall sense of happiness."
Colleagues donating their own time off is a beautiful, generous act. But it's an itty-bitty Band-Aid on a great big gaping wound. America needs paid parental leave, and we need it now.