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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