Having babies is not a new thing, right? It's been happening since the start of time apparently. So why is it then, that every time an employee announces their pregnancy, (or the pregnancy of their partner), in which they will require time off and a degree of flexibility, there tends to be a level of internal hysteria and stress with some managers when they come to see me, in HR about it?
Who will take on their projects? When will they return? What if they don't return full-time? Well, first things first shall we. Usually, you are in the position to have time up your sleeve. But this doesn't mean you wait until the week before they go on leave to start planning. Other than, of course, the magical occurrence of a new baby in the world - this is actually a brilliant opportunity for your organisation to bring in fresh ideas, attract great talent, support your existing employees and solidify a collaborative, flexible and family friendly workplace culture - if you do it right.
It's also an opportunity to make employees feel isolated and disengaged, if you do it wrong (no pressure)! So where do we start? Here are my eight ways you can support your employees on parental leave and come out with a more engaged, productive and happy workforce.
1. Inform yourself
It's important that you first understand your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to parental leave. Your organisation should have it's own policy when it comes to this, so speak to your HR department if you have one, or visit the Fair Work Ombudsman, where they have some great resources including a Best Practice Guide for Parental Leave. This isn't just about mothers either, it's important you understand your responsibilities for all carers. If you don't yet have a policy around this, now is the time to get one in place. I can help you with this.
2. Communication is key
Although it would be great to have a crystal ball right about now, don't assume you know what your employee will want to do (how long they plan to take off, when they wish to return and in what capacity). Heck, they probably don't even know this yet! What is important now is that you keep the lines of communication open with your employee. They might have an idea in the early stages that they wish to take 12 months leave, for example - and this could be your starting point for recruiting a replacement. Remember, at this point your employee has no obligation to have a firm plan in place about when and how they will return to the workplace after that period of leave, and a lot of things can change over the coming months, so try not to push this point, as much as you would like to plan ahead.
4. Recruiting a replacement
Wherever possible, I advise to have the employee going on leave somehow involved in the recruitment process of their replacement. After all, they are the one who knows the role the best. This is also a great opportunity to review the job description and responsibilities. Are there others in the organisation who could take on part of the role as a developmental opportunity? Could this be a chance for someone internally to step into this position for period of time as a secondment? Whoever you decide is the best fit for the role - it is beneficial to have a period of handover between the employee going on leave and the new employee (I suggest 1-2 weeks depending on the role). This is one of the rare opportunities you have in recruitment whereby you have a definitive time frame of when a new role will commence, so plan ahead and start your recruitment drive for this position early!
3. Confirm responsibilities
Confirm with the employee their entitlements (and responsibilities) in writing as soon as you can. This may be in the form of an information pack containing your parental leave policy, any paid maternity leave or paternity leave your company offers, details on how to claim the government paid parental leave, your flexible working procedure, information about keeping-in-touch days while on leave, a letter confirming the date they wish to finish work and what they are required to supply you (i.e. a certificate from their doctor confirming the expected due date). If you're unsure how to develop these documents, Hello People Co. can assist you.
5. Keeping in Touch
Keeping in touch while the employee is on parental leave is a critical part of them feeling attached to their career, connected to their colleagues and the workplace, and could be a determining factor in them deciding to return to work. Simple ways to do this could be forwarding the staff newsletter to their home email address, ensuring someone is responsible for forwarding important information to them, inviting them to social events, team lunches, planning days or training.
It is important to note that employees can choose whether or not they decide to participate in work-related activities while on leave, and it can't be a requirement for them to do so. If they do attend work during leave, they should be paid for work-related activity at their usual rate of pay.
6. Be Creative & Flexible
Before the employee is due to return to work, arrange a meeting to discuss their intentions for their return. Perhaps they wish to return part-time, or change their days of work or hours to suit caring responsibilities. Depending on the employee, the role and your organisation, a phased return to the workplace may also be appropriate. I.e. they may wish to return just two days per week for a few weeks while their child adjusts to other caring arrangements and before they return to their role in their full capacity. If an employee does wish to return to work in a part-time capacity for a role which is traditionally full-time, get creative. Is it possible to re-arrange the role so that it can be done over fewer days? Can the role be shared with another person? Perhaps a few days can be done from home? Let's be honest, parents with babies are usually very organised, productive and efficient with their time - they need to be! It's no longer acceptable, nor is it reasonable to give the standard answer of "you must be in the office 38 hours per week for this role." It's 2021, if you're not flexible and creative, you'll lose great talent to organisations who are.
7. Be prepared for their return
To ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace, ensure you are just as prepared for their return as you would be for a new employee walking into your doors for the first time. As their manager, ensure you block out a significant part of their first day back (or at least, ensure they have someone in the team to do the same) to help them through what could be a daunting day. Are their systems activated? Does their swipe card work? Make sure everything is set up for them to get back into it. Hopefully, if you've been keeping in touch while they have been on leave, it will make the return to work even more smooth.
Just like you would for a new employee, consider a re-induction into the workplace after a long period of leave. It doesn't need to be a full induction program, but it might be re-training in software programs or new policies that have come into place since they left. They may need to be introduced to new employees, clients or customers they will be working with.
8. Review and monitor
As with any change, it's important that you review and monitor how effective it is. Whether the employee has returned into a new position, or you are trialing different working hours for the role - catch up regularly within the first few months back to ensure it's working for both parties, and they are getting the support they need.
I hope this has been useful. If you're looking for support to ensure your workplace practices are up to scratch, please contact me at email@example.com or check out www.hellopeopleco.com.au
Another great resource is the Fair Work Ombudsman: www.fairwork.gov.au