Sweetgreen is putting its restaurant competitors—and most American workplaces—to shame when it comes to parental leave. The DC-founded salad company will offer five months fully paid leave for all full-time and part-time restaurant and corporate employees nationwide to take care of new additions to their families. The policy applies to mothers, fathers, adoptive parents, and foster parents who work for the company at least six months.
“The goal with this was: how do we lead the conversation for the industry and think about not just retention, but also what matters to our employees?,” says co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Nathaniel Ru.
Previously, Sweetgreen offered six weeks paid maternity leave as well as “baby bonding time” for both parents that included one week leave per every six months the employees worked for the company. In researching a new policy, Ru says they found no real industry standard. “We saw things that were similar to six weeks, less than six weeks, more than six weeks. And we just wanted to almost start over and understand what’s most important to our team members and offer a program that’s just best in class,” he says. He’s unaware of any other restaurant groups offering store employees as much as five months fully paid.
PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States), a national group advocating for paid family leave, confirms that such a generous policy is rare. “I’m not off the top of my head aware of any other restaurant companies that are competing for talent with a [nearly] six months policy,” says spokesperson Shira Albagli.
For comparison, Darden Restaurants (the company behind Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, among others) offers salaried and hourly employees two weeks parental leave plus six to eight weeks of “child recovery leave” for birthing parents. Starbucks gives corporate employees 12 weeks and field employees six weeks. And McDonald’s has two to 10 weeks for corporate employees, according to 2018 data.
“Even just three years ago, the people who had the most generous policies were concentrated in the tech sector,” says Albagli. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that Sweetgreen thinks of itself as a tech company as much as it is a restaurant company. In 2018, Albagli says, there was a “rapid shift” in the private sector where 20 of the largest US employers introduced new or expanded paid family leave policies, impacting more than 5 million people.
“First of all, businesses want to compete for talent. Second of all, they see that it benefits their bottom line. Walmart and Google have reported that their retention of employees has increased as a result of policies like increasing their paid family leave,” Albagli says. “And it’s what doctors recommend, which is six months of paid family leave.”
For Sweetgreen, the move is part of a larger rollout of holistic employee benefits. In recent years, the company has launched a “family fund” to provide financial support to employees dealing with personal emergencies, whether their apartment burns down or they need money for a family member’s funeral. At the beginning of 2018, Sweetgreen also began offering equity to tenured store general managers—or “head coaches,” as the call them—in addition to corporate employees. Not a bad perk for a company now reportedly valued at more than $1 billion.