Compared to the world of scarce PTO tracked down to the quarter-hour, flexible PTO is a dream for employees to request time off when they need it, for any reason. For many, it’s a catch-all progressive policy that covers vacations, sick days, self-care days, or whatever else comes up. Pairing flexible PTO with competitive parental leave policies makes some People teams question whether they really need a compassionate leave policy or not, if they’ve considered one at all.
Cocoon customer, Superhuman, was in the same boat, until they realized that the pandemic and politics of the past few years had left employees and the People Ops team in need of more guidance and specificity to feel supported and prepared. After seeing other companies launch compassionate leave policies, this prompted Superhuman's People team to not only revamp their existing policies, but also implement a new compassionate leave policy. We chatted with Superhuman's People Operations Specialist, Amanda Samuel, to find out exactly why and how her team did it, and what guidance they have for teams hoping to do the same.
Meet Amanda at Superhuman
In a nutshell, Superhuman is email software reimagined—designed to be fast, delightful, and stress-free—saving customers hours on email every single week, to deliver on productivity and peace of mind. One of Superhuman’s most super humans is Amanda Samuel, a People Ops specialist who’s motivated by helping her colleagues do their best work in a diverse and inclusive environment. “I might not be the engineer building the software,” Amanda says, “but I can build the culture.” And it’s exactly this attitude that made her the perfect fit to lead the charge on changing Superhuman’s leave policies.
What inspired Superhuman to implement a compassionate leave policy?
“We already had a flexible time off policy, but increasingly realized flexible PTO can be too vague for today’s world,” Amanda explains. This vagueness can contribute to flexible PTO being underutilized by employees, with some feeling concerned about the perception of how much time they take and why. “Flexible PTO is great for things that don’t require much explanation. But when something more is going on, you need policies that offer more guidance, specificity, and confidentiality. That way, employees know what’s supported and managers are prepared to give that support.”
This also prompted Superhuman to see leave as a diversity and inclusion lever to fit a wide array of people and circumstances. “Simply having a diverse group of people isn’t enough—you need to ensure that they have what they need to do their best work and feel supported.” Using this equitable lens, Superhuman saw that they needed to refresh their PTO and leave policies.
What changes did you make to the leave and PTO policies?
“We updated everything! We added three different types of leave: compassionate leave, caregiver leave, and healthcare leave, adding lots of examples of when they might come into play so people know what they’re for and to ensure that People Ops has thought the scenarios through.”
“In general, we updated the language to be more inclusive. For example, our bereavement leave covers the loss of any loved one, whether friends or family, recognizing that many folks have chosen family and other structures. Our parental leave policy has always covered birthing and non-birthing parents, but we added a caregiver leave to cover responsibilities folks might have to take care of their loved ones beyond parenthood. We implemented a healthcare leave that focuses on long-term care and recovery for situations like accessing reproductive or gender-affirming care, or chronic illness treatments.”
“We also added a flexible holiday policy to differentiate it from PTO. We didn’t want people to miss out on important or culturally relevant holidays that might not be federally recognized and have their teams chug along without them like other PTO days.”
What was the process to implement these policies?
“The impetus to make these changes came from our People leaders and the leadership team itself, so that was helpful. I also had a lot of guidance and patience from our Director of People Operations, Zoë, which gave me the space and support to think everything through and be deliberate about every word.”
Amanda also did tons of research to see what types of leave were out there, real policy texts that companies were using, along with examples of how they could be used. She drew heavily on Cocoon’s compassionate leave policy text, which also inspired her to want to share Superhuman’s policy (which you can see at the end of this post.).
After several rounds of revisions, feedback, sustainability checks, and legal reviews, Superhuman was able to launch their new policies in December of 2022.
How have employees responded to the new policy?
Though it’s only been live for a few months, Amanda says they’ve already had a few employees take compassionate leave and have gotten positive feedback in general. Employees can feel safe knowing that no matter what might be happening outside work, they have rights and protections at work. “Getting paid is one thing, but knowing you have a safety net is another,” Amanda says.
“The People Ops team also feels more prepared for the unexpected, because we have policies and training to support these situations in a way that’s sustainable and leadership-approved. The policy also helps Superhuman as a company normalize difficult or taboo topics, because on any given day, they could affect anyone.”
What advice would you give to organizations considering a compassionate leave policy and why is now the time?
“In general, life is always happening to your employees, so you can either implement these things proactively or reactively,” Amanda cautions wisely. “You don’t want to fail in the worst possible moment. Given the current moment we’re in—from hybrid work to the pandemic—we knew we had to take action. We didn’t want to wait for yet another crisis or drastic change.”
Additionally, it requires a lot of trust. “You need to trust and believe that employees want to do their best work every day, but sometimes, unforeseen circumstances or life changes might impede them from doing it, and that’s why these policies are in place. If the fear of employees abusing the policy is stopping you, then you need to dig into why that is,” Amanda says.
“Finally, I think taking it slow is important so you can really do your research, look up policies to emulate, and talk to others who have implemented them. That’s why I was excited to share Superhuman’s story—to inspire other companies and give them a starting point.” We couldn’t agree more, Amanda!
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After two years, working with hundreds of employers, and supporting more than 5,000 leaves in Cocoon, we have more conviction than ever that technology has the power to transform taking and managing leave. Today, we’re excited to share our evolved and expanded vision, along with the technology that will power it — with an all new look and feel.