The Working Waterfront

Why the Island Institute offers 12-week paid parental leave

New policy confers benefits to employees, organization and society

Rob Snyder
Posted 2016-07-19
Last Modified 2016-07-19

Nonprofit organizations like the Island Institute are not exempt from the pressures of the bottom line. In fact, we are just as mindful of budgets as for-profit businesses because we are funded by finite sources—grants and donations—and can’t count on an uptick in sales to provide a cushion.

But despite fiscal constraints—or maybe in part because of them—the Island Institute recently adopted a new policy for our employees. Beginning this month, we will give our staff 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

That’s right—if a woman who works with us is having a baby, she can expect three months off with full pay, to nurture and bond with her child. And if the spouse or domestic partner of an employee is giving birth, that employee can also enjoy 12 weeks with pay to stay home and engage fully in caring for the new arrival. This policy reflects our workplace principles of mutual trust, support, courtesy and respect.

Yes, adding this benefit for our staff of 50-plus comes with real fiscal and human-resource costs. Other staff members may have to pick up the slack where needed. But we believe it’s a progressive and compassionate personnel policy as well as a sound management move. Increasingly, the men and women who work at the Island Institute—where we work to sustain Maine’s island and remote coastal communities—are of the millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2000.

This younger cohort is critical to Maine’s economy and absolutely essential to our ongoing success. A recent study by the Society of Human Resources Management found that millennials will comprise 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. They are starting to have children, and a recent Ernst & Young survey concluded that this generation is almost twice as likely as the baby boomers to work full-time and to have a spouse or partner who also works full-time.

Millennials seek balance in their lives. They want to work at challenging and rewarding careers, contributing to the greater good of the society they are shaping—and we believe the Island Institute’s mission provides those opportunities.

But they also want to have the time and energy to enjoy the phenomenal recreational opportunities that life in Maine offers. They want time to exercise and relax for optimum health. They want to forge strong bonds outside the office with friends. And, when the time comes, they want to have successful, healthy family lives.

The Island Institute may be among the first nonprofit organizations in Maine to offer a 12-week paid parental leave—if not the first—and we are proud to lead in this way. But we’d be even more proud and pleased if others followed us in taking this step.

By encouraging the building of strong family bonds, the benefit extends beyond the employee to our world. And, by responding to the financial and social needs of those of child-rearing age, the benefit bounces back to our organization. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Paid maternity leave increases worker retention and reduces turnover, saving businesses significant costs associated with replacing employees.”

The recession years have left many believing that jobs are in short supply, and in some fields, this is still so. But Maine faces some very real workforce shortages. Tailoring compensation and benefits to the upcoming generation will help grow the pool of skilled, educated young people who may be more likely to stay and put down roots in Maine.

And who knows—maybe the babies being born today will come to work for us 25 years from now.

This column first appeared in Maine Biz. Rob Snyder is president of the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. He can be reached at, and follow Rob on Twitter @ProOutsider.