What Being Strategic In HR Means – Real Life Case Study

I was in Canada recently to speak at an HR conference.  Upon returning, I wrote a post regarding the differences in pregnancy leave policies between the two countries, and I got a strong reaction from the Canadian side.  Let me break it down for you:

United States Pregnancy Leave:

FMLA: 12 weeks, no pay to Mother or Father, upon eligibility of FMLA.

Canadian Pregnancy Leave:

A little more complicated, but here are some details:

– 17 weeks pregnancy leave for Mom

-35 weeks parental leave for Mom or Dad (divided as they see fit)

– 55% of salary paid to a max of $48,600 (from Government paid taxes, one part by employee, four parts by employer)

Very generous leave policy for our Canadian neighbors, especially when compared to what the U.S. mandates employers provide.  The Canadians called me “a dinosaur,” said I was stuck in the 1950’s, etc.  All because I raised this question:

How much pregnancy leave is too much?”

Then I asked: “What do you think? What is the perfect amount of pregnancy leave? If you were given the chance to design a plan taking into account both the employee and the company resources, what would you decide to do?”

My point being that I think the U.S. policy for pregnancy leave sucks.  Yes, I know companies can be more generous if they would like, and many are.  Also, that the Canadian policy could potentially put companies in a very bad position competitively having to lose great talent for 52 weeks. Canadian HR Pros pointed out finding a replacement for 52 weeks if much easier than finding one for 12 weeks.  Which sounds true, from my experience.

So, what does this have to do with being strategic?

Most people who joined the conversation couldn’t get beyond their initial argument that I was a greedy, middle-aged male, talking about this very personal relationship between a women and her child.  All of which is true.  But it’s also the vain of most HR pros existence.  They can’t get past the emotion of situations.  The reality was, I wasn’t saying either side was right or wrong.  I was asking what should it be, and what is fair for both parties?

Most people working in HR aren’t considered “strategic” for the simple fact they are unable to get themselves past the personal emotion of a situation, and move onto the business consequences of the decisions we make.  52 weeks without talent in your organization has impact to the business. Some of it bad, some of it good.  But you have to be able to see both sides, and ultimately come up with the best business solution.

Me asking the question if a 52-week maternity/parental leave policy hurts a company shouldn’t provoke a personal reaction.  What it should provoke is a conversation around real data and reason why the policy is good or bad for business.  What could be done better?  What things could be changed to make the negatives less of a negative, etc.?  Being strategic in HR means you can feel the initial pain or shock of something personally, but you are able to quickly put the greater good ahead of yourself.  Change maternity policy and replace it with a number of hot-button issues we face: life partner benefits, work-from-home policies, etc.  Your ability to be viewed as “strategic” is directly correlated to how you handle those policies that have the biggest impact to you personally.

FOT Background Check

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at www.timsackett.com. Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. Interesting posting. As a Canadian whose family has taken (and will be taking again soon) advantage of maternity leave I’ve often wondered about the implications of such an extended period of time off. I think it is really great for the families (mine included). But was always curious how the length of 12 months was determined? Recently speaking to an accountant colleague of mine I actually learned that 12 months was not determined based on benefits to the families or the maximum amount of time before it became very detrimental for the employers, rather it was decided by the Canadian government to reduce the ballooning employment insurance fund as people weren’t using it. 12 months was the calculated number that would reduce the excess funds based on the number of Canadians taking advantage of the past 17 week leave. It’s interesting to see that an accounting decision has led to such a strong emotional response received when you touch on this subject.

  2. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    So I’m assuming the length of leave is tied directly to a mindset socially of what makes for great families and great kids, and what outcomes this helps influence in those areas.

    With that in mind, what’s going on with divorce rates and all the other bad stuff that happens to families and kids when compared to the US? If the trends are the same, then it really doesn’t help influence great outcomes and it’s just nice to have – it really isn’t doing anything.

    Note – I’m assuming a bunch of stuff in these areas looks better in Canada than the US.


  3. Tim Sackett says:

    KD –

    Great point:
    Divorce rate in the U.S. is 53%
    Divorce rate in Canada is 48%

    So, it would seem like they are fairly close at 5% difference.

    I think another measure might be mental and physical health – one could easily argue that 12 months with a newborn and mother, versus only 12 weeks – you could assume the longer length of time would have more positive outcomes. But you would also then be looking at socialized versus privatized medicine outcomes.


  4. kd says:

    I’m no scientist and I like the idea of a woman having lots of time with a newborn.

    But – if the nuclear family isn’t really staying together, than I’m skeptical…

    Another state – 41% of children in America are born out of wedlock, only 25% in Canada. What’s it all mean?


  5. Tim Sackett says:

    KD –

    I’m in total agreement – being that we both have sons (enough to create are own Sackett-Dunn starting 5) – I know we would have loved to be able to have 12 months with our babies and their mothers. Oh wait, we did! How did we do that? Sacrifice. Our wives are both, now, professional women who made the conscious choice to stay home and raise our kids. That means we didn’t get to go to Hawaii on vacations, or drive brand new cars, or had to wear those chinos another year longer, but that’s okay, we won.

    Life is about choices. I don’t think the American crowd gets upset over 12 weeks because they know it’s a personal choice. I don’t ask my neighbor to pay for my family choices.


  6. alf says:

    This is a great post! I really like the way you addressed the commenters on your previous post. I had read through those comments with the impression that they were attacking what you said based off of emotions rather than having a logical discussion. I got irritated just reading that…and also baffled if those really were HR professionals.

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