Is your workplace truly family-friendly?

Here’s how to ensure staff on parental leave don’t get forgotten or lose sight of their career goals

Is your workplace truly family-friendly?

Ever notice your staff go on parental leave – and don’t come back?

It could be because HR’s not giving them all the support they need to reintegrate back into work as a parent – and their career suffers as a result.

Debby Carreau of Inspired HR says Canada’s generous maternity leave provisions can inadvertently hurt parents.

“If you fully step away from a full year, you do lose the visibility of people that on the career path and working very hard during that year away,” she tells HRD.

“It’s hard for employers – if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind.”

Carreau urges employers and HR to encourage staff to do what’s best for their family, but enable them to keep one foot in the door, “to still go to social engagements in the workplace, to still be able to participate if you’ve got internal group discussions or they want to keep in contact and receive the employee newsletters and email communications, that kind of thing, to stay involved and engaged.”

“Even simple things like enabling them to keep their industry association membership, because sometimes they still want to keep up to date on publications and things that are happening, and not fully step away, without having to go to the office every day,” she says.

It’s crucial, too, that employers don’t make assumptions about their employees’ needs or desires once they become parents – and instead, ask them what they want.

“We make up these stories in our heads about ‘this person won’t want to travel because they’ve got young children’ or ‘we don’t want this person to have to come back to work and work a big heavy workload because it may impact their family negatively’.

“All too often, as employers, we don’t think about ‘maybe that’s not what the employee really wants, maybe they’ve got a great set-up with flexible childcare or their spouse stays home; they want to travel and stay engaged and climb that corporate ladder really quickly’, and we stand in the way because we’re trying to make their work life easier because we’re making assumptions about their family life.”

HR leaders should ensure managers feel confident about having those tricky conversations with staff, by knowing what’s appropriate to say, and avoiding “stepping on landmines in relation to human rights and employment standards”.

“Treating people like human beings and just having that heart to heart conversation [is] often how you get the best solution, where you’re going to have employees who are engaged and are going to want to stay with you and be more loyal if you support them this way.”


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