Kathryn Anderson gave birth to her first child, Emmett, in August, and the time since has been a journey getting to know him, setting routines at home and then new routines for her job at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

What helped, the senior manager said, was having eight weeks paid short-term disability and then eight weeks paid family leave after that. After adding vacation time, she was ready to jump back into work in the second half of January. 

A new policy at PwC helped her ease back into work. For her first four weeks back, she was able to work a 60% schedule while being paid her full salary.

She was the first on her team in the training and development division to use the transition policy, which went into effect last summer. The benefit is for both mothers and fathers, and the schedule is figured out by the employee and his or her department. Anderson ended up making sure she was done by 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and taking Fridays off.

“That really helped me coming back to mentally prepare,” especially because late January is one of the busiest times for PwC, she said. “It was an amazing policy and opportunity the company gave me.”

Flexibility and equality in paid-leave policies are considered best practice, said Katherine Eyster, deputy director of workplace programming for the National Partnership for Women & Families. “We recommend more holistic policies.”

That includes family-leave policies to include a paid time-off benefit for caregivers; PwC’s offers four weeks paid for caregivers.

Public sentiment, empirical evidence showing retention, productivity and morale improvement and a tight labor market are all factors in paid-leave policies gaining traction in both state legislatures and private companies. Congress, Eyster said, is set to conduct its first committee hearing ever on paid leave this week.

Still, only 17% of workers have access to paid family leave, Eyster said. And a lot of people who do have it tend to work for professional firms or corporate headquarters in higher-paying jobs.

PwC’s policy is not the strongest among its competitors. Deloitte and Ernst & Young both offer 16 weeks’ paid leave on top of short-term disability.

However, PwC is among a minority of the more than 100 employers surveyed by the women and families partnership to offer the transition time. Airbnb also offers the transition time at full salary; the pay agreement at the other companies that offered the benefit was unclear.

Microsoft has been a leader in the area, requiring its business partners and suppliers also to offer paid family leave.

Amazon allows its employees to share their leave time with partners who work elsewhere if the other parent’s company does not offer the benefit, according to the foundation.

The women and families foundation recommends that paid family-leave time be a minimum of 12 weeks on top of short-term disability. That gives parents time to bond with their children and also allows for economic stability for households, Eyster said.

The U.S. is the only high-income country that does not require paid family leave of any kind. Eyster said public paid-leave policies that some states have passed operate much like disability and workers’ compensation where employers and sometimes employees pay a small amount each paycheck toward the funding. Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a similar plan for Minnesota.

These types of public policies would allow small businesses that see the upside of family leave to offer the benefit to employees, Eyster said. Many of these companies cannot afford the policy without public support.

A national policy would be best, she said, because some employers already have run into issues where it is required through a public program in one state but not in another where they do business. Six states and the District of Columbia have paid-leave laws.

For PwC, the transition period was part of a $45 million upgrade to benefits last year that also included providing money toward wellness programs, increasing adoption coverage from $5,000 to $25,000 and adding a $25,000 benefit toward surrogacy.

PwC has about 2,000 parents who take leave every year, said Jennifer Allyn, diversity strategy leader for the company. The company found that some departments were informally allowing new parents to transition back into work and seeing good results, so it made sense to formalize the policy across the company, Allyn said.

The idea is to help parents with early child-care hiccups, sleep-pattern issues and switching to pumping for breast-feeding mothers, she said. The changes in the adoption benefits and addition of surrogacy came from employees who presented needs to the company. A podcast with employees talking about work/life balance and how they overcame hurdles also is available.

The paid caregiving leave and enhanced elder-care support through PwC’s employee-assistance program also were added, as was a policy for more flexibility in schedules. For example, 95% of employees telecommute at least some of their workweek.

The flexibility also has helped Anderson.

She worked for eight years in the assurance department, and took a job within the training division, without sacrificing a career step, partly because she could work remotely most of the time instead of coming to the downtown Minneapolis offices.

Now, with day care to consider as well, she also works an earlier 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift that has not impeded her ability to do her work or communicate with her team. She does admit, though, to jumping online after bedtime on heavy workdays to finish projects.