Royal baby sparks debate on parental leave

Earlier this year, the world’s media was gripped by ‘baby fever’

Royal baby sparks debate on parental leave

by Emily Douglas

Earlier this year, the world’s media was gripped by ‘baby fever’ as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex welcomed their first child – a son called Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

And while the press may have gone somewhat overboard with the relentless 24-hour-a-day speculative coverage, we’re reminded of the tribulations of parents returning to work after the birth of a child. As parental leave becomes an increasingly ‘must have’ benefit, what are employers doing to welcome employees back into the fold? How can HR step-up and instill an authentic culture of returnship?

Offering paid maternal or paternal leave is a legal requirement in many countries, with employers and the government offering some form of paid absence. And whilst this is clearly a welcome help to anxious soon-to-be parents, it doesn’t solve the issue of retunrship. Offering a stellar parental leave program is a great asset when attracting top talent to your company – but how you deal with these parents once they come back into the workforce will have more of a lasting impact.

Three in five employees claim they’re likely to switch organizations after the birth of their first child, with 70% of workers admitting that their employers and workplace culture directly impacted on the timing of their first baby. But with 96% of new mothers claiming to be ‘looking forward’ to retuning to work – what are employers doing to ease that painful transition?

With parents often taking up to one year off work to bond with their new baby, it’s no surprise that the workplace they return to is much different to the one they left.

“Returning to work after having a baby represents a significant transition – new mums returning to their role can feel anxious about the prospect of returning to work - this is often associated with decreased confidence from lack of skill usage coupled with lack of contact with the organization,” explained Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions

“Maternity returners may experience a mixture of positive and negative feelings, including a growing sense of anxiety about re-joining the business. Individuals who are supported both before and during their return to work often have a positive experience, are more engaged and become fully effective more quickly.

“Research has also shown that a high number of mothers who return to work leave the organisation within one year. Specialist maternity coaching provides an important and effective intervention at this critical time. It enables women to make the right choices to suit their situation and aspirations and enables organisations to retain talent. An external coach has no fixed agenda or pre-conceived ideas of the returners career and is able to provide confidential and objective advice.”

Employers could consider the reintroduction into the workplace as form of onboarding. It’s essential that HR takes the time to not only reskill the retuning parents, but also ensure they’re not left feeling out of place or isolated in the new company culture. An organization’s values may not change much in a year – but the way people perceive them certainly will.

One facet of the process should take place during the parental leave period – managerial training.

“To ensure good support for employees taking parental leave, HR professionals should train line managers on the maternity process,” explained Jo Stubbs, head of product content strategy at XpertHR.

“The areas to cover should include the role of unconscious bias in the manager-employee relationship, and awareness of managers’ own bias. Other subjects for the training include how to manage change within their team, the business case for gender diversity and good practice in maternity as well as employees' rights during pregnancy and maternity leave and on their return to work and the key steps involved in the process of managing pregnancy and maternity.”

“It’s important to remember that people work best when they feel valued and supported. There are several things that HR can do to facilitate this such as providing for the option of spreading out contractual payments during maternity leave to support better budgeting or offering flexible arrangements for keeping-in-touch days.”

A recent report found that 25% of new mothers return to work just two weeks after giving birth – whether that’s out of choice or out of necessity is another matter entirely. How HR deals with parents coming back into their organizations doesn’t just demonstrate a commitment to diversity and equality – it can actually make a real difference to people’s lives.

“Specialist maternity coaching provides an important and effective intervention at this critical time.” - Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions

“It’s important to remember that people work best when they feel valued and supported.” - Jo Stubbs, head of product content strategy at XpertHR.


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