The Army’s parental leave policy will mirror policies more common in the private sector, a top Army official said during a media event on Friday.
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Agnes Schaefer told reporters that the new parental leave policy builds on the already-granted six weeks of convalescent leave a mother can use after birthing a child.
“This is not only going to make a huge difference in individual’s lives, but I think that it sends a signal to our soldiers that we value them, we care about them, we care about their families,” Schaefer told Army Times. “It brings us closer to the private sector and sort of the way that the benefits of the private sector is giving families.”
Mothers and non-birth parents are now both allowed to 12 weeks of parental leave. This includes soldiers that adopt children, have a child through a surrogate, or take in a child long-term through the foster care system.
More than 53,000 soldiers become parents every year, she said.
Competition with the private sector — in both pay and benefits — has been a major hurdle as the services work to prevent recruiting shortfalls. In March 2022, Army Recruiting Command’s top official said the service was competing with companies that now offer more benefits for college tuition and leave than before, cutting into some of the incentives often used to persuade recruits to enlist.
While Schaefer did not provide details on how much the new leave policy would impact recruitment and retention, the changes reflect a generational shift in the workplace, she said.
“Younger folks right now have different expectations too,” Schaefer said. “We see that in the private sector...They want more flexibility in their careers, they want a better work-life balance. So I think that this is an indication that we’re hearing what younger folks want.”
The service rolled out its delayed parental leave policy on Tuesday, following a directive issued Jan. 4 by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros. The service was the final branch of the military to release its updated policy, following the Air Force and Space Force policies issued on Jan. 5, the Navy’s released on Jan. 19 and the Marine Corps announced on Monday.
As for future policies that may reform and change the workplace, Schaefer would not go into detail on any other potential plans. However, she said that the parental leave changes have signaled that more changes may be on the horizon.
“We’re going through this sort of generational shift in terms of work expectations,” Schaefer said. “They are probably going to be other things like this that kind of modernize our personnel systems and policies.”
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.