Becoming a parent is an adventure that changes your life forever. It affects all aspects of your employee’s lives and sharpens their perspective in the workplace. Parenthood cultivates a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and responsibility. These benefits, as well as a lasting commitment to employees, make supporting new parents well worthwhile. Offering parental leave is a start, but supporting employees when they return is an equally important step for long-term retention of working parents.
Parental leave is just one component of the ongoing support that working mothers, fathers, and caregivers should receive. While the ability to take parental leave is important, research shows that the quality of support during an employee’s return to work is the most impactful factor. Equally important are the structures in place to support working parents long-term.
The birth or adoption of a child is a critical turning point in an employee’s life. Like many other milestones — such as work anniversaries, marriage, and big birthdays — this moment prompts employees to reflect on whether their job is still suitable for their new life circumstances.
Understanding the needs, fears, and goals of your employees will lay the foundation for effective parental support planning.
The following is a widely-sourced guide to supporting parents before, during, and after the arrival of their child. Working with parents at each phase of this journey will create better outcomes for them and your organization.
It’s important to prepare for your employees’ leave well before it begins, as it sets everyone up for success.
Consider whether decreasing work during the lead-up to an employee’s departure is right for them. If so, it’s important that team members be aware of the redistribution of work that is to come, and know the date that the employee expects to leave.
Workflow idea: A workflow can be set up to remind managers to redistribute an employee’s responsibilities to other teammates. If the work redistribution will occur at the date of departure, it’s important that the rest of the team be reminded at when the employee will be leaving and what they can expect.
You shouldn’t bother your people when they’re out on leave, but it may be helpful to ask them to reflect on any shifts — such as feelings or expectations — that will help their transition back to work run smoothly.
At minimum, a parent’s first week back to work is overwhelming due to the sheer emotions of leaving their child. Providing the employee with a concise log of the changes that happened during their leave is a simple tool to minimize these overwhelming feelings.
Tip: To make changes more digestible upon return, a team member can keep a Google Doc ‘log of changes’, which the employee can browse over at their convenience. The Google Doc format is less stressful than checking emails, and the employee is not pressured to reply to the information. Simple notes like someone getting hired or changing roles can minimize the first-week shock.
Often, expectations of parenthood are different from reality. The employee might be feeling much less or much more equipped to stick with their initial plan for return. For example, an employee that commits to starting back at three days per week might feel ready to take on four, and vice versa. It’s important to check in and see how things are going, and to keep this type of expectation checking a regular process.
Workflow idea: Remind the manager that an employee’s leave is close to ending, and guide them to set up an expectation-checking meeting. The reminder can have a link to the employee’s original return plan. Team members should also be notified of the return and how their workload will shift.
Transitioning new parents back to work comes with important decisions, as this time can either lead to a supportive return or quick burnout.
Phasing in is often an effective method to re-integrate employees without making them feel overloaded. For example, starting an employee at three days a week, then working up to five, is a common and effective strategy. Expectation-checking should be used as a tool to determine and modify what the employee’s plan should be.
If there are larger changes that have taken place during the employee’s leave, a mini-onboarding is often suitable to catch them up. Parenting is often a flurry of new learning. A poorly-handled return can double the amount of stress a new working parent experiences.
Tip: Managers or another team member should keep a log of the changes made to an employee’s tasks. Before returning, managers should take time to create a way to communicate these changes, and provide adequate time for employees to learn any new skills before resuming their responsibilities. A quick meeting with important updates is often sufficient.
Fostering social connection can be a huge way to show your company cares about their working parents. Special groups for parents, both new and seasoned, to connect, can go a long way to help employees navigate this life change. These groups can be easily formed via a Slack channel or Facebook group.
Here are a few support group ideas:
Besides supporting new parents, consider the following to provide flexibility for all working parents.
Research indicates that parents prefer flexibility over salary when it comes to what matters most. Flexibility can be seen as a benefit just as valuable as traditional benefits like health and dental insurance. Whether it’s working at home a few days a week or adjusting hours, flexibility can be the factor that makes being a working parent possible.
Consider some ways to offer flexibility:
Managers that aren’t themselves a parent or caregiver might have trouble understanding the demands of parenthood. Building empathy for parents can take many forms, including:
When an employee considers whether their job is still the right fit for their new life, having an additional set of long-term family benefits can bolster your organization’s ability to take care of working parents. Depending on what your organization can provide, some ideas include:
Parental support doesn’t just apply to working mothers in heterosexual relationships. Rather, it’s important to consider policies and practices that apply to all parents and family models.
It may be counterintuitive, but research shows that increasing emphasis on paternity leave is an important step in leveling the playing field for mothers. Fathers who take paternity leave are more engaged in their children’s lives over the long term, well after the leave ends. When both parents are given leave, they are much more likely to equally divide childcare and household responsibilities over the long term, better enabling women to progress in their careers at the same rate as their father counterparts. In fact, each additional month of paternity leave taken correlates to a 7% increase in the mother’s earnings.
Equality of parental leave is even more important for families of different structures, including LGBTQ+ parents and adoptive families. A study conducted by UCLA and the Thomas Reuters Foundation found that same-sex male couples are at a significant disadvantage for receiving parental leave. On average, same-sex male couples received five fewer months of paid leave than different-sex couples. Same-sex females received three fewer months than heterosexual couples. Additionally, adoptive mothers and fathers aren’t protected by parental leave laws, often causing financial stress and loss of insurance for these families.
The most important thing for managers to understand when engaging with working parents is that the needs of a family are subject to change at any given time. By regularly checking in with employees to see whether their role is still compatible with their family life, parents will be better assured that your organization is willing to help for the years to come.
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