More governments and companies than ever before are supporting new parents with paid parental leave policies.
Here in Canada, the federal government extended leave an additional six months last year, allowing parents to share up to 18 months of leave. In March, fathers and non-birth partners will also be given an additional five weeks of leave.
In the US, where there is no federal paid leave policy, several states have stepped up to the plate to ensure new parents get at least some financial support. Companies, too, are getting in the game, with more than one in three US employers offering paid leave beyond what is required by law.
This is all exceptional progress that must continue. Yet, it’s not quite enough.
Even with paid leave, one in three new mothers in the UK seriously contemplate quitting their job because they feel so unsupported and isolated when they return to work. Much of this dissatisfaction begins during pregnancy with four-fifths of expecting mothers leaving their job unhappy and suffering with low confidence in their ability and future prospects.
Of the 1,000 mothers surveyed, 72% were in jobs at the management level or above. At a time when companies are trying to retain their best talent, such results are concerning.
Yet, the solution is clear. Parents need connection and support.
Because a new parent returning to work is essentially starting a new job. She is now a working parent. Yes, she may be doing the job they did once before. But, she is contending with a new set of demands and expectations. Also, she may bring with her a new lens in which she sees and approaches her work.
All of which requires managers and colleagues to rally around the returning parent on their team. Here are five ways you can do this.
Offer your mentorship
As much as new mothers need a mentor during this transition period, it’s unlikely they’ll seek it out. That’s why managers need to be proactive in offering your mentorship and encourage others on the team to do the same. Mentoring from more experienced parents could be especially beneficial.
A word of caution: many mentoring relationships are bogged down with weekly meetings and structured agendas. This doesn’t have to be the case here. Instead, focus on creating an environment where new parents are encouraged to seek support and counsel as they come back up to speed.
When a new mother rejoins their team, they usually bring with them an onslaught of emotions, concerns and expectations. It can be an overwhelming and confusing time that can impact confidence and productivity. Take time to regularly check in with new parents. Be curious about how they are feeling and what they may have dealt with before coming into the office. Listen so you can understand the hurdles that may be in her way, and consider ways you can help alleviate some of these stress points.
Fill in the gaps
Communication is critical for new parents returning to work after a leave. As much as new parents will need to proactive in learning what they missed during their absence, it’s important to remember they can’t ask questions about things they don’t know. Managers and team mates should be sure to take time to bring new parents up to speed on new strategies, priorities and projects.
Share what you know
New parents may not be fully aware of the formal and informal ways their company can support them. If the company offers flexible working arrangements, suggest she look into it. If there’s a back-up childcare option, be sure she knows about it. The same is true of any official or informal parent support groups.
Be her advocate
There remains biases that hold mothers – and sometimes engaged fathers – back at work. Mothers are often questioned about their commitment, and commonly, are assumed to be less able to perform their job. With these beliefs in play, often times managers and colleagues are looking for examples to prove their hypotheses.
That’s why new parents need advocates in the office. Someone to clarify that a mother who is presumed to be out picking up a sick child is in fact attending a business meeting with a client. Advocates ensure the new parent is properly recognized for her contribution. They can also motivate and encourage her to present her ideas.
A final word
Taking a more compassionate approach to new parents returning to work will enable them to return to their previous levels of performance and success faster and more effectively. A win for the new parent as well as her team.
Yet, benefits will only happen when this support needs to extend beyond the traditional first weeks in the office. Often, the stresses related to returning to work surface months later. This demands managers and colleagues stay connected and supportive of new parents during this time.