Keeping connected during parental leave: 4 considerations for HR leaders
Expecting a baby is equal parts deliriously exciting and seriously nerve-wracking, and being a working parent can make it all the more complicated. Bringing a new life into the world should be the number one priority, and parents deserve to be able to devote their full attention to their new bub without worrying about career moves and workplace politics.
In March 2023, our wonderful Senior Employer Brand Strategist Hannah Brink headed off on parental leave to welcome her beautiful daughter into her family. Like many working mothers, Hannah says she was initially concerned about her place in the team while she took parental leave. She’s worked hard to progress in her career, finally found her ideal workplace, and was afraid it would all grind to a halt.
Hannah is caring and creative, builds relationships in a heartbeat, and manages video projects like a walk in the park. And after coming back from parental leave, she’s added a bunch of new skills to her repertoire - because nobody knows how to multitask, work under pressure, or negotiate quite like a mum with a newborn and a six year old!
Empowering Hannah to have a great parental leave experience was the best thing for her, and for us. We’re so happy she’s been able to take the time to nurture her family without compromising her career.
If you want to shape a positive parental leave experience for your team, here are our four key considerations.
1. Reject a cookie-cutter approach
Parental leave isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Every circumstance is different, and your employees likely have different expectations and wishes. Talk to your people to see what works for them. Inviting them to the table for that conversation helps everyone get on the same page.
Hannah says: “I was able to set my own boundaries. I knew I still wanted to be part of the wins and celebrations. I even brushed my hair and attended celebrations and social events. Actually, the team met my daughter before some of my family. But let's just keep that a little hush-hush. We worked out a way for me to still be involved in some communication channels so I could stay up to date and be part of the pun-offs and banter. I know other people might prefer to switch off completely - that’s why it’s so important to have that open dialogue. Flexibility is key.”
2. Keep the wheels turning
While some parents are more than happy to hit pause on work while they take time off, others will be keen to keep a finger on the pulse. Many working parents are apprehensive about the effect long-term leave can have on their career. If your people want to stay involved, it’s important to facilitate that in a positive way.
Hannah says: “I used nine of my 10 ‘keeping in touch days’, and I think it is such a good initiative. I was able to keep adding value and stay connected to the team. I also received a promotion during my parental leave, which was bloody brilliant and unexpected. It helped me feel like my career was still moving forward.”
3. The re-onboarding experience
A lot can change during an employee’s parental leave period. When they return, they’ll be a different person - their home and family dynamic has changed, and they have a whole new set of responsibilities. And depending on the length of the leave, it’s likely that your organisation has changed, too.
Hannah says: “When I returned from parental leave, I went through a similar process to our new employees, appropriately titled ‘re-onboarding-ish’. I had sessions updating me on our processes and systems, lessons on how to work the new coffee machine (a non-negotiable for this sleep-deprived mum), and I was encouraged to set aside time to meet with the people I’d be working with (EBA added five new people to the team while I was on leave, it was wild!). I wasn’t just thrown back in where I left off - I was set up with everything I needed to settle in and thrive again.”
4. Understand the impact on your employer brand
Want to be known as an employer of choice? Organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing develop a positive culture, keep people engaged and attract new talent. How you treat working parents reflects on you as an employer - make sure you put your best foot forward.
Hannah says: “I knew I made the right choice when I was at a mum’s group, and everyone was bemoaning the day they had to go back to work because they were worried about the workload and not feeling respected as a mum. I couldn’t relate - I was looking forward to coming back! In truth, I felt a little smug! It’s an often overlooked part of employer branding. People talk about their experiences, and others will form an opinion of your organisation as an employer. I have no doubt a few of the mums are keeping an eye on our job ads and all things EBA!”
Want to shape a positive workplace culture and encourage your people to share their stories? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.