Reducing re-entry anxiety: how HR can help new parents

One business expert shares her advice on helping new parents stay connected while they’re on leave

As a business owner, I understand the challenges that come along with keeping employees motivated and engaged at work. Here at Kids & Company, we put a lot of effort into making our employees feel supported, appreciated and secure. This becomes especially important when employees go on maternity leave and are away for extended periods of time.

When the Canadian Government increased parental leave to 35 weeks a decade ago, it seemed great; but the reality is 35 weeks away is a very long time – long enough to lose touch with colleagues and friends, to feel alienated and awkward when faced with changes like employee turnover. According to Statistics Canada (2014), only 29 per cent of parents with children under 18 are currently employed, proving that returning to work isn’t as simple as falling back into routine.

Employee engagement is a daily challenge for those in HR. They understand that most employees want to maintain a connection with their workplace while on maternity leave, and know that they play a key role in keeping this connection alive.

Losing great employees is more than a HR issue. The average cost of replacing employees can be anywhere from 40 to 400 per cent of the annual salary for that position, making turnover a huge expense from a financial perspective, so it’s worthwhile to invest in easing the transition from home back to work, rather than lose resources.

But how do they do it? Some innovative solutions range from things like parental toolkits to mentorship programs. For example, some companies utilise “stay connected” plans that match employees on maternity leave with employees back at the workplace. This allows employees to stay in touch and receive real-life updates.

There are also many solutions for employers. Maintaining employee expectations of re-entry into their position is key to ensuring a smooth transition back into the professional world, and this is done through communication during their leave. This may seem counter-intuitive as some employers are afraid to intrude on parent-baby bonding time, but experts have stated the importance of retaining communications through “keeping in touch days” where parents visit while on leave.

Keeping in touch days may sound strange, but the concept isn’t completely new. It is a tried and tested practice across the pond. It was so successful, the United Kingdom and Australian governments integrated “Keeping in touch days” into their employee rights to encourage parents to visit their workplace while on leave – without jeopardising their baby bonding time. It’s a great compromise that allows professionals to stay in the loop.

Other great solutions I’ve heard about are more organic, including one-on-one meetings with employees. These meetings allow HR professionals to develop flexible work options that suit the needs of specific staff members. Maternity leave services are not one size fits all. Some employees prefer a phased re-entry to work, while others want to get right back at it but require certain accommodations like breastfeeding areas or onsite childcare.

Recognising the need to ease the transition back to work for employees, Kids & Company developed a maternity leave benefits package for our corporate partners and their employees. It helps employees feel more at ease while on maternity leave because they can trust that they have a priority spot at a centre close to their work and full- or part-time childcare with reliable, flexible backup care whenever they need it. On top of that, our “Mommy and baby get-togethers”, facilitated by a Kids & Company professional provide a hub for conversation and learning from like-minded parents. Held in select centres, these gatherings allow parents to discuss important topics such as adjusting to parenthood, nutrition and baby’s milestones, growth and development.

What it comes down to is providing flexible, customisable alternatives that make the transition from maternity leave back to work a little easier.

Victoria Sopik is the co-founder and CEO of Kids & Company, Canada’s leading corporate-sponsored childcare provider. An awarding-winning entrepreneur and mother of eight, she understands the delicate balance between work and life.
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