IKEA's new parental leave policy definitely raises the bar for American retailers.

If you're an expecting new parent, there's probably a million and one questions racing through your mind at any given moment.

What's the correct way to hold a newborn? How many onesies is too many? Is it bad that I've never changed a diaper?

Oh, and how in the world am I going to balance work with being a parent?


Photo via iStock.

That last thought clearly doesn't belong. Yet, it's still one on the minds of most American workers about to welcome little ones into their families.

Far too many U.S. workers lack paid parental leave, and those in blue collar and low-wage positions — like fast food and retail — are most affected.

You've probably heard this line before, but it definitely bears repeating: The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world to not have a national paid maternity leave policy. Unfortunately, many businesses won't take the initiative to provide that sort of benefit if they're not required to; a mere 13% of American workers had access to paid family leave in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Having time off after expanding your family benefits parents and babies alike. Studies suggest that paid parental leave lowers infant mortality while improving the mental health of mothers, among other critical factors. Dads, too, are more likely to become involved in family activities, forming beneficial bonds with their kids.

While the U.S. has a lot of work to do on the issue, the tide (slowly, but surely) seems to be turning. And news out of Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA this week is the latest proof.

IKEA announced on Dec. 6, 2016, that starting next year, most of its employees will have access to new, generous paid parental leave benefits.

If you've worked at IKEA for at least one year, you'll be able to take six weeks of fully paid parental leave and another six weeks of 50% pay. The benefit is company-wide too: It doesn't matter if you're salary or hourly, working at corporate or at an individual store, an expecting mother or an expecting father, LGBTQ or straight, adopting or fostering a new little one — you'll have access to the policy.

What's more, if you've worked at IKEA for more than three years, your paid time off increases to four months (eight weeks of full-pay, eight weeks of half-pay).

Photo by Thord Nilsson/AFP/Getty Images.

The move came about because IKEA actually listened to its employees. And their message was clear: Employees wanted better work-life balance.

According to a statement from the company, research into its employees' priorities found that work-life balance and moments spent with loved ones topped the list.

"We believe time with family and friends is so important for a healthy work-life balance and a happy and productive workforce,” said Lars Petersson, president of IKEA USA. “Our co-workers are our most important resource, which is why we continue to invest in helping them reach their dream.”

And as it turns out, investing in your workers pays off. It might seem counterintuitive to let an employee leave the company for such an extended period of time, but providing paid parental leave has been known to be good for business, helping companies recruit top talent and significantly lowering costly worker turnover, among other upsides.

Photo by Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/Getty Images.

IKEA isn't stopping here either. The company also wanted to be more accommodating to employees who don't want to become parents and has introduced a new sabbatical program for them as well. As The Huffington Post reports, the program gives workers with at least seven years' experience three months of unpaid leave with the guarantee their job will be waiting when they return. The more years under a worker's belt past seven, the more time off they can take advantage of.

New and expecting parents have a lot on their plate, and whether they'll be able to make ends meet between work and parenting should never be part of the equation.

"The home is our arena,” Petersson told The Huffington Post. “We think that it’s really important that people working for us get a chance to experience their home, especially when you’re welcoming a new family member."

This way, new parents can mostly worry about messy diapers and finding the time to sleep — not where their next paycheck is coming from.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture