An employee’s parental leave experience is not only impacted by family-friendly policies and entitlements (although these are the foundations of best practice). Research and experience indicates that what also matters, is how parental leave is managed by the employees’ line manager.
In a recent report by FlexCareers* that surveyed 982 employees from their talent community, only 50% of respondents felt adequately supported by their employer. When you dig deeper into statistics like these as we have in several in-depth interviews over the last 12 months, you begin to understand the significant impact that people leaders have on the parental leave experience.
What we do know, is how inconsistent the experience can be within the same organisation, depending on the employees’ line manager. When an employee is preparing, undertaking or returning from parental leave, their line manager impacts how the employee feels about their organisation, themselves, and their ability to return to work confidently and effectively, perhaps more than anyone else.
In what can be a vulnerable and temporarily challenging time for employees, supporting your leaders to co-create a more effective parental leave experience where your employees feel valued and engaged can result in significantly improved outcomes for your employees and your business.
There’s a lot we can do to support people leaders to initiate a positive parental leave experience, and we have decided to highlight three powerful areas of focus. The list is not exhaustive, but the good news is, the strategies below don’t require financial investment, or a significant shift in the way that effective leaders operate on a daily basis.
1. Engage your employee with great communication.
The basis of any good relationship is communication and there’s no exception when your employee isn’t physically in the office. Many employees welcome communication updates from their managers, and it helps them to feel connected to their organisation, and their work community. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind shouldn’t be the case and many successful people leaders find that the extra effort that may be required to keep your employees who are on leave up to date is a worthwhile investment. Think relevant changes and updates about the business, news about opportunities, and invitations to social and strategically important events.
It’s important to keep in touch in a way that suits your employee. Establishing the boundaries of communication (frequency, relevant content, format of contact) before the employee goes on leave is highly recommended and receiving feedback on the level of communication during their leave so that you can make any adjustments is also key. Using Keep In Touch days to their full potential is also an excellent way to retain engagement and help support a smooth return back to work. Many employees and organisations fail to take advantage of these days, and we know that those who use them well, find them invaluable.
2. Create opportunities for them.
The stories of lost opportunity, discrimination and biased decision-making during and following parental leave are plentiful. Many of these situations arise when false assumptions are made about a person’s level of commitment, ability, mobility, desire and ambition. One simple way a manager can help to change this career and business limiting practice is to actively seek to create opportunities for their team member, as they would have done before they were pregnant, or became a parent.
We need to do away with assumptions. What we do know from the work we do daily with women returning to work after parental leave, is that the vast majority remain just as committed to doing meaningful and well-suited work as they were before becoming a parent, and whilst a flexible mindset needs to be adopted when deciding how work gets done, many parents also believe that their effectiveness at work is enhanced by their experience as a parent, not hindered by it.
3. Actively support them to be successful in their return to work.
Setting your team members up for success on their return sounds simple, but is something that is often neglected by people leaders. Co-creating a robust return to work plan that includes collaborating on the ideal return to work arrangement for your employee and the business as a starting point, is key. Adopting an open and flexible approach to establishing a work arrangement that can be managed by all stakeholders can take some negotiating, and it is important to remember that this arrangement can be regularly reviewed and evolved over time.
Supporting your team member to sketch a first 90-days plan can also pay dividends as it helps to map out the key focus for the first 30, 60 and 90 days of re-boarding, and the businesses expectations of them. You can support your employee to set some realistic and achievable goals and prioritise their efforts as they integrate back into the team.
Our Positive Parental Leave Program steps employees through the entire process and puts them in the driver’s seat, with the aim of supporting them to build an individualised and resilience-building approach to returning to work and thriving.
When any of your team takes extended leave from work, there are implications to several stakeholders. It can be a temporarily unsettling time for your business, however with some considered planning and consistent action in the three areas we have highlighted, the parental leave experience can be optimised, with the result being a more engaged, loyal and productive team member, faster.
*FlexReport: How can organisations better support parents? Flex Careers, 2018.
shethrives.org is an Australian organisation dedicated to supporting working parents to return to work and to thrive. Our Positive Parental Leave Program supports employees before, during and after parental leave through a highly-engaging series of short video tutorials and interactive discovery tools. Our psychology-led, highly practical and professionally astute program has been designed with the needs of mothers and fathers in mind. The reported benefits include increased confidence, productivity and improved return to work outcomes. Contact us to Book a Demo, or download our program brochure for more information.