The Competitive Edge of Compassion: How NICU Leave Can Transform Your Leave Program 

April 18, 2024

The recent, rapid evolution of the modern workforce has compelled many organizations to reevaluate their approach to employee benefits. Attracting, supporting, and retaining top talent in today’s job market means taking a close look at the types of paid leave your company offers. In a recent survey, we found that 42% of job-seekers wouldn’t even apply for a job that doesn’t offer paid leave.  

Many companies have been offering new and innovative leave programs, such as Toast’s paid sabbatical program, or SevenRooms giving employees their first two weeks off.  However, the most common policies organizations are offering are variations of paid parental leave. Our 2024 forecast report found that 54% of organizations either recently added or planned to offer paid parental leave in the coming year.  

One specific type of paid parental leave policy has been gaining serious traction lately: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) leave. Industry leaders such as Pinterest, Sony, and Morgan Stanley are leading the way, offering paid NICU leave for employees with critically ill newborns. The importance of this type of leave was brought to national attention when an employee at the baby clothing company Kyte Baby was fired for asking to work remotely while her baby was in the NICU.  

NICU leave, along with other paid parental leave policies, is no longer viewed as just a fringe benefit.  It is a practice that highlights a company’s commitment to supporting its people through one of the most personal challenges. It is also more necessary than ever: in 2022, the March of Dimes found that pre-term births in the US had reached a 15-year high, and that number hasn’t dropped significantly since. 

What is NICU Leave?

NICU leave policies provide specific, extended time off for parents whose newborns require intensive medical care. When a company chooses to offer NICU leave, they acknowledge the unique needs of these families by providing them support and flexibility to manage the crisis without the added stress of work responsibilities. 

The recent adoption of NICU leave by major employers signifies a major shift in the cultural landscape of corporate benefits. For example, Sony now offers up to 26 weeks of NICU leave for their employees.

This transformation has been swift, with more companies announcing new policies every day. They also highlight a necessary change in the way employers view the relationship between work and personal well-being. 

A Competitive Edge in Recruitment and Retention 

For HR professionals, NICU leave has become more than just a sign of inclusivity. These policies can also become a strategic tool in talent acquisition and retention. Companies are beginning to understand just how large a role benefits play in attracting skilled workers. As prospective employees consider job opportunities, they scrutinize benefits packages for evidence of an employer’s values and commitment to their workforce.  

Forward-thinking companies have recognized that providing NICU leave is not just about fulfilling regulatory demands, but about enhancing their employer brand. It sends a clear message: we value our employees as whole people, not just workers.

Promoting Equity Through NICU Leave

By expanding their own paid leave programs to include NICU cases, organizations are taking a crucial step towards diversity and inclusion. According to the March of Dimes, people of color or those who live in impoverished areas are most at risk for premature birth, making them more likely to need paid NICU leave benefits. By providing this much-needed benefit, companies are working to level the playing field and foster a more equitable workplace. 

Strategies for Implementing a NICU Leave Policy

While the compassionate case for NICU leave is robust, the practical process of implementing this type of policy requires a concerted effort. Successful launching and managing a new leave policy requires careful planning. Your team will need to take time to understand your leave management processes, as well as the protocols for such a specialized type of leave. HR leaders will be central in advocating for this kind of change and guiding its adoption within their organizations.  

Other key considerations in launching a new NICU leave policy include:

Craft a policy with both heart and logic.

Creating a NICU leave policy involves practical considerations, like the duration of the leave, eligibility criteria, and the continuity of benefits throughout the leave. Crafting a policy that is both compassionate and clear in its support will build a foundation of trust with your employees. A clear, straightforward leave request process makes it easier for employees to know what to expect if they end up with a child that requires a NICU stay.

Communicate the value.

Creating a well-considered NICU leave policy is only the beginning. The successful implementation of a new leave policy requires effective communication. Steps should be taken to help make employees aware of the resources available to them. Clear, compassionate messaging around the policy will provide comfort to new parents and reinforce the supportive culture of the company.

Advocate from the highest levels.

For organizations to fully harness the potential of NICU leave, leadership must champion it from the top. The endorsement of these policies signals a cultural shift within the organization, making it clear that supporting employees is a fundamental value that the company holds. 


The emergence of NICU leave as a standard employee benefit is just one example of how the corporate world is evolving and leveraging leave as a benefit. Companies are starting to recognize the life experiences of their employees and provide much-needed support to navigate life’s challenges.  

Compassionate, supportive paid leave policies will not only attract and keep talent — they will inspire loyalty to both managers and your organization.

In our recent leave experience survey, over half of employees who reported having a positive leave experience were more motivated, felt greater workplace loyalty, and increased their productivity when they returned to work.  

Costs associated with turnover, recruitment, and training are much lower when employees feel valued and choose to stay with their employers. Providing NICU leave as part of a broader package of parental benefits can directly lead to a more productive, loyal, and long-lasting workforce. For HR leaders and decision-makers, this translates into highly favorable metrics that likely impact their KPIs. 

If you’d like to learn more about how leave technology can help you implement and easily track new leave policies, schedule a demo of AbsenceSoft today.