Helping new moms and dads transition back to the workplace upon return from parental leave can impact employee focus, productivity, and retention. Here’s how to support them.
When employees begin parental leave, they’re often sent off with congratulations and best wishes. During their time off, they may check in with the workplace routinely, periodically, or not at all. These moms and dads are busy tending to a new addition to their family through childbirth, adoption, or foster care. And regardless of what road to parenthood they’ve taken, welcoming and caring for a new child can be a big adjustment. New parents become consumed with new interests, concerns, and responsibilities, and their primary focus usually isn’t the job.
While it may be a sacrifice on a company’s part, offering parental leave is typically worth the investment. For many parents, the challenges of juggling a new baby or older child with work responsibilities can be difficult. Parental leave gives new parents the time off they need to make life adjustments on the home front. It can alleviate the overwhelm and provide support for parent-child bonding and other healthy family dynamics. Ideally, new parents return from parental leave in a better physical, mental, and emotional state than if they hadn’t taken it. But that doesn’t mean coming back is “easy” for them.
With a bit of understanding and planning, organizations can help staff make this transition more quickly, easily, and calmly. Here we’ll share tips and insights for doing just that.
Who is taking parental leave?
Nationwide, approximately 71% of women and 93% of men with children younger than 18 participated in the workforce in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without worry of losing their jobs. While the job protection is important, that much uncompensated time off could present a break in financial security for many. Employees without access to paid family leave often need to return to work sooner than they’d like. Reportedly, most fathers in the U.S. return from paternal leave within a week of a new child’s arrival. Many don’t take sufficient paternity leave because they simply can’t afford it, even though their presence at home may be critical.
Employers who can help new parents juggle professional and personal obligations may experience a stronger workforce and more profitable company.
Challenges and solutions when employees return from parental leave
Employers may anxiously await the end of an employee’s leave, looking forward to a return to “business as usual.” But new parents face new challenges even as they transition back to the job. They may have been well prepared to take parental leave. Though the transition back isn’t always successful amid the struggle to keep up with both work and family responsibilities. Some foresee that early on and opt instead to resign and pursue opportunities with more flexibility or higher pay. When an employee doesn’t remain after parental leave, the business loses more than a valuable employee. Ultimately, they’ve also lost the time they could have spent recruiting and training a replacement.
Understanding the obstacles workers face upon return to work can help. If you can ease your staff members back, supporting them as they reestablish themselves, you may reduce the chance of a resignation letter landing on your desk. Here’s how organizations can show such support.
For working parents, finding good childcare can be tough. But there are ways employers can help.
Encourage workers to plan for childcare expenses in advance with their flexible spending account deposits. FSAs allow workers to set aside pre-tax dollars they can use for daycare centers or private caregivers. Saving for this expense in advance can help ease the financial burden of returning to work during those first weeks or months.
Help employees find a local caregiver
Another way employers can help is to raise awareness of new caregiver options near the workplace. While many parents choose daycare near their homes, others prefer something closer to work. They can then join their children for lunch or snack time and be close by if there’s an emergency or issue. Companies with enough employee interest may even be able to arrange discounted rates.
Offer on-site childcare
If feasible, consider whether offering on-site childcare would benefit the organization. It’s an even closer option and offers more flexibility for moms and dads. Parents are less likely to feel guilty or preoccupied when they know their children are safely nearby.
Switching from extended time off to full-time “on” can be extra challenging amid more to manage. If possible, plan with employees prior to or during leave to transition back to work with a reasonable schedule.
Allow part-time status
Look at part-time return initially, then build to a full-time routine. A new parent will often feel comfortable knowing they can ease back into work during the first few weeks after they return.
Offer remote work or hybrid work options
Can you offer remote work or a hybrid option to help direct a successful transition back into the workplace? Working from home the first week or 2 can help new parents better adjust to their new situation.
Alternative flexible working arrangements
Can you offer other flexible working arrangements that help parents navigate their family’s needs? Perhaps working 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 7 to 3 would avoid scheduling conflicts and enable employees to fully focus on work while on the clock. Variable work schedules can help new parents work with their partners to cover childcare needs. For parents with children in care centers, drop-off or pick-up time options could equate to shorter time in line or less of a traffic hassle. If possible, adjust their clock-in and -out times accordingly.
If flexible working arrangements seem like too much to ask for at first, consider the alternative. If employees resign, this means recruiting, hiring, and retraining a replacement who could take as many months (or longer) to level up in knowledge and productivity. If you’ve already managed without an essential employee for several weeks or months, a little while longer to get them back to full time may be worth the investment.
Guilt and overwhelm
Whether they’re returning to the same job or a new job after the arrival of a new child, your employees may experience feelings of guilt and overwhelm. Even those with several children may feel remorse over leaving them with a relative or in daycare. That first day back at work can be especially difficult as they embark on their new routine. To mitigate these difficulties, employers and human resources personnel can offer understanding, a sympathetic ear, resources, and a built-in support network.
Healthcare or wellness plans are a good way to provide access to professionals your staff can leverage if they’re feeling overwhelmed by guilt or other stresses working parents face. Let employees know before, during, and after their leave that both mental health and self-care resources are available and they’re encouraged to use them.
Nursing moms and lactation
If you don’t have a private room or area set aside for lactation, make sure to set one up. Lactation spaces are required in some states; others have requirements that allow for lactation break times during the workday. Whether it’s legislated in your area or not, a great way to support working mothers is to have a lactation plan for their return.
Set aside a small, private space they can use to express milk, and provide a small, private refrigerator for storage. If employees have a private office, they can use their own space. Create Do-not-disturb signage for the door. Make sure to let employees know you’ll have this space available upon their return from maternity leave.
Just as you plan orientation for new hires, consider a reorientation plan for returning parents. During their time off, the company may have shifted to new priorities or workflows. Policies, equipment, surroundings, and even people may have changed.
Plan for a meeting or casual lunch to introduce returning team members to new staffers or help them reconnect with peers. For anything new, plan on training sessions to get them up to speed. If coworkers have taken their share of the work during the absence, don’t plan on just dumping everything back on their desk. Have those employees spend time together to discuss what went smoothly, where they may need a heads up with customers or protocols, and how to transition the work back quickly and easily.
Connect with family
If possible, offer your returning moms and dads flex time to connect with their children and/or caregivers while at work. A few moments of interaction via phone or video call can do wonders for their peace of mind. While this takes a few minutes out of the workday, the small interruptions often deliver a positive return. Worry-free parents are likely to be more focused, attentive, and productive on the job.
Help with logistics
You can help returning parents in other ways as well. Many parents turn to delivery services for diapers, wipes, accessories, and more. Allowing these deliveries at the office can ease their worries about home-delivery theft and save them trips to the store.
Start a dialog
Talk with employees who are raising or planning a family about other ways you can support them. Provide them a list of questions to ask HR about maternity or paternity leave before they take it. Encourage them to add their own questions and schedule that discussion. Perhaps HR can share tips for how to make the most of their parental leave while away.
Let employees know you also look forward to helping them transition back to work with support and services when that time comes. Knowing you’re there to help may be a critical factor in their easing back into the fold.
Working parents are the backbone of the American industry. And a return from parental leave can be difficult for new mothers and fathers who experience a hard time transitioning from home life back to work. Identifying ways to support them helps make for a win-win scenario.
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