That’s the amount of guaranteed paid parental leave in the United States at the national level for most employees.
It’s also the amount of support many parents receive in the workplace. For those who lack access to paid leave, comprehensive medical benefits, mental health support or flexible work schedules, planning a family is a fraught endeavor that only gets harder once the baby arrives.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Affirm, a remote-first fintech company, has zeroed in on benefits designed to holistically support employees in their journey to become parents. That doesn’t simply mean offering plenty of leave, although the company gives both primary and secondary parents 18 weeks of fully paid time off. Rather, leave is just one aspect of a progressive benefit suite that includes a return-to-work program, active employee resource groups for women and parents, and a company-sponsored wallet that provides U.S. employees with $20,000 to use toward surrogacy, adoption, fertility treatments and egg freezing.
For Senior Manager of Mergers & Acquisitions Integrations Russell Kamp, Affirm’s support has significantly helped him adjust to life with his 1-year-old daughter in a way that works for him and his wife.
“In a time when life and work blend together, it’s important to me to be at a company that truly prioritizes family,” Kamp said. “There are no strings attached and no judgment. Affirm leaves space for employees to engage with their benefits how they want. I’ve found that helps fight that blur of work-life balance.”
And while it’s often difficult to find a work environment that actively encourages delineation between work and personal time, Senior Director of Client Success and former Co-Lead of the [email protected] ERG Kellee Van Horne says that maintaining a full life outside of work isn’t just encouraged. It’s celebrated.
“When I told my managers I was expecting, they were so excited for me,” Van Horne said. “When someone’s having a child, we all know how important that is. People here want you to be happy in your life, and not just your work life.”
So, while companies across the world have adapted to their employees working from home — and the occasional child running through a Zoom call — there’s more organizations can do to provide support to their employees embarking on a difficult new journey. To prove it, Built In connected with Kamp, Van Horne and Senior Manager of People Experience, Jennifer Huynh, who explain just how impactful and meaningful Affirm’s support has been on their road to parenthood — and beyond.
Tell us more about the benefits Affirm provides employees on their family planning journey. What was the impact of these benefits on you personally?
Senior Manager, People Experience Jennifer Huynh: If you’re looking for a company that really values you, that’s definitely Affirm. I think that shows in our benefits. Every U.S. Affirmer is able to access a $20,000 “wallet” to use within their lifetime at the company. That money can be used for surrogacy, adoption, fertility treatments and egg freezing. We have a number of partnerships, too, like through virtual care provider Maven, which is how I found the fertility clinic we ended up using. I know other people have found childbirth classes, specialists and more through Maven, which provides basically anything you’d need to know about being a parent.
We also have Spring Health as an offering, which I used to find a therapist who specializes in infertility. The fact that I was able to find that through Affirm’s benefits, and receive a cost-effective way to get therapy, was amazing.
Senior Director of Client Success and former Co-Lead of the [email protected] ERG Kellee Van Horne: In terms of parental leave, I decided to take off three-and-a-half months, which was really helpful for me because I already have two kids at home. We have flexible leave policies and generous paid time off, so I was able to make my choices based around what was right for my family instead of being worried about other deadlines.
We also have an additional 15 days of paid Life Happens Leave that we can use for any kind of childcare or dependent-care emergencies that we might have. Normally, when you get holidays off from work, it’s also a school holiday, so you’re not actually getting time to yourself. The companywide Away Days are a way to pace yourself. Recently, I decided to take the week off. My managers knew I needed a mental health break and were so supportive.
Most companies only give secondary parents a short parental leave. Russell, what was your parental leave experience like as a new dad?
Senior Manager, Mergers & Acquisitions Integrations Russell Kamp: My wife and I both work at Affirm and decided to take our 18 weeks of parental leave together, so we could fully invest in what’s been one of the hardest and most rewarding things we’ve ever done. I think the expectation a lot of other companies have is that, as long as one parent is with the baby, the other one is good to go to work. The fact that Affirm offers generous parental leave for both partners is massive. Bringing a child into this world is a lot harder than anyone appreciates until they do it, and being able to spread that burden across both parents has been incredible.
Without equal parental leave, you’re either getting woken up by a baby all night, or you’re completely separating your life from your spouse’s and feeling guilty. We didn’t have to experience that, but I’ve heard it can put an emotional strain on your marriage. Plus, with a newborn, you’re not sleeping at all, and sleep is so vital to being a smart, active, good employee. Not having that pressure of performing well at work while raising a newborn was so important.
Eavesdropping on the [email protected] Community Group
Jennifer, can you share what your experience was like with using the family planning wallet?
Huynh: We had a really hard time getting pregnant. Like I mentioned, through Maven, I was able to find a doctor who we ended up doing our fertility treatments with. I interviewed him through the platform, did a consultation and ended up doing in vitro fertilization. IVF is very expensive, and would have been a huge stressor on us financially had we not had the wallet to dip into.
I think about those who don’t have access to this type of corporate wallet, and I think about how stressful it would be to shoulder all of that spend on your own. It’s not like anyone can say that you’ll spend $10,000 and then have a baby — it doesn’t work like that. When you start your journey, you have no idea how much you’re actually going to spend. In general, IVF is taxing on your body, your time and your mind. Having that wallet gave me one less thing to think about.
Once parental leave ends, it’s time to go back to work. What did that transition look like for you?
Van Horne: I came back full-time, which worked for me. I worked with my manager on what my schedule would look like, and how I wanted to come back to work. Because I’d done it a couple of times before, I knew what to expect.
I’ve always looked at coming back from leave as a great opportunity to evaluate what I want to be doing. I was able to really think about how I wanted my role to evolve. It’s hard to find those opportunities to hit the reset button in your career and fully explore what you want to do. I would actually encourage people that are coming back from leave to think about what they want to keep from their role, and what they want to do differently.
Kamp: Coming back to work was awesome: We basically get to come back part-time to start, if we want. We were putting our daughter into daycare because we were both starting work again, but that transition still wasn’t super easy. The expectation here is that, if you want to jump back in 100 percent, nobody is going to stop you. But they also explicitly protect your time as you transition back. What that looked like for me was working half-days to start, where I attended meetings to ramp back up, caught up on my inbox and tended to my work relationships. I actually had time to re-engage, instead of getting hit in the face with a fire hose.
When I came back, Affirm had just gone public. My manager told me I could keep doing my old job if I was interested, but he alerted me to an opportunity on a new team getting spun up, which I took him up on. So, not only did I have half days, but I also got to step into this really exciting job. I think the fact that the company allowed me to fully disengage on leave helped me transition to this new role a lot easier.
Besides parental leave and generous stipends, what other support does Affirm provide parents and those on their journey to parenthood?
Huynh: Kellee mentioned earlier that we have a parents’ community group, where we can talk about our road to parenthood. One of our executives held a session with this group, where she shared some of the hardships she’d faced on her journey, and some other folks shared their own stories. I ended up speaking as well, even though I hadn’t planned on it.
So many women reached out to me afterward and told me about their similar experiences, or how one of their friends had gone through the same thing. Through that session, I made friendships that have allowed us to share our experiences and support each other. That’s been pretty incredible, because when your road to parenthood is long and bumpy, it can feel very isolating.
How do these benefits reflect Affirm’s values?
Van Horne: Affirm has normalized the fact that working from home means you’re working with your family. It was very common, particularly in the depths of the pandemic, for people’s children to run on camera during meetings, or for people to block time off to take care of their families. My husband and I would split the day up when our children were in childcare, so he would work in the afternoons, I would work in the mornings. It wouldn’t have been possible to do it otherwise.
I appreciate that our executive team all the way down to our managers were very real and honest about the fact that we’re not living in a normal time, and nobody expected us to behave like we were.
That’s still the case, two years later.