When Parental Leave Policies Are Subsidized by Donated PTO

Photo by Nynne Schrøder on Unsplash.

So this morning I shared a story about Casper’s new nap pods, which are ostensibly designed for workers (and tourists) who need a quick snooze in the middle of the day — but since the pods cost $25 for a 45 minute nap, plus you probably want to arrive a little early, plus you’ve got to get to The Dreamery and back, these pods are really only accessible to people who can, like, take a 90-minute break in the middle of the day.

And sure, there are enough “knowledge workers” (and tourists) for Casper to anticipate making a profit off its pods, even after providing each sleeper with — to quote Meredith Haggerty — “$53.84 worth of free products.”

But it’s interesting to compare the nap pods story to this feature from Good Morning America:

Yes, this is a bit like comparing apples and oranges — or, more specifically, lunch breaks and parental leave. Even people who can spend 45 minutes in a nap pod may still not have enough vacation days to cover the arrival of a child. If they, like that Money Diaries intern, were earning $25 an hour (without the accompanying allowance), they’d have to skip 40 naps to save enough for a week of unpaid leave; if they earned Manhattan’s average weekly wage of $2,954, they’d have to forego 119 trips to The Dreamery.

Which is how we get “vacation days” as the newest baby shower gift — or, more accurately, the newest way to subsidize an office paternal leave policy.

This isn’t exactly new, of course; people have been donating PTO to coworkers for years. But now that it’s trendy, coworkers might feel pressured to contribute their vacation days instead of, say, buying a onesie or adding to a diaper tree. As the Good Morning America article explains, some employees receive an email every time a coworker goes on parental leave:

Employees within a state agency where a new mom works get an email that they can reply to and anonymously donate their paid time off. The new mom then finds out during her maternity leave how much additional time she has received.

You don’t need me to tell you that vacation days are more valuable, by far, than a pack of diapers — and if you only get 14 days of PTO a year (including holidays), contributing even four hours is a significant gift.

But we’re also a culture that gives, and often very generously. Last week the Washington Post shared a story about a group of airline passengers that spontaneously donated $500 in cash to a teacher, after one passenger overheard her telling her seatmate that her students often went hungry. (It’s like the #PlaneBae story, except way less creepy. Also, never assume that anything you say on an airplane is private.) In 2016, Ashley Ford tweeted “A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off,” and people gave enough to cancel over six figures of school lunch debt.

Yes, a lot of these problems — including our nationwide sleep deprivation, as Haggerty notes — could be solved by better public policy, but until then, we’ve got PTO donations and GoFundMes.

Have you ever given vacation days to a coworker? Have you been a PTO recipient? Freelancers don’t really have PTO to give, so I’ve never been asked to donate vacation days — and I’m not sure how I’d respond if I were. It would probably depend on how much PTO I had saved, and whether I anticipated needing to use it all for myself. If I did end up buying something off the registry, I’d probably make it a slightly more expensive gift than usual, because I’d feel badly for not being able to afford to give my time.

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