Making the most of your team’s return
With August and September seeing the highest number of births in the U.S., many employees will be signing out for a bit as they take advantage of their maternity or paternity leave.
Taking time off at the birth of a child is no longer exclusive to women, more and more fathers are taking paternity leave as well. In fact, 15 percent of American companies now provide some form of paid leave for new fathers.
But overcoming the obstacles of taking leave can be challenging for new parents. From navigating uncomfortable conversations on taking time off to schedule changes and work-hour flexibility upon returning to work, workplace expert Chris Duchesne, father of three and Vice President of Global Workplace Solutions for Care.com, can offer insight on how to make this transition a smooth one (in his own words below):
1. Plan ahead
Supporting new parents in the workplace should start long before the baby arrives. Document outstanding projects or any client services on the docket, along with coverage plans and relevant contact information, in a transition memo well ahead of when the expectant mother or father-to-be is scheduled to go out on parental leave.
2. Go beyond what’s mandated – offer parental leave
The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate any form of paid leave for new mothers. Even the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees after the birth or adoption of a child, only covers a small percentage of working parents.
So — unless you’re in California, New Jersey or Rhode Island, which have programs providing paid leave to new parents — it falls to employers to provide parental leave (paid or unpaid). With only about 15 percent of companies offering any paid time off for maternity or paternity leave, providing the benefit has been a recruiting and retention tool for those that do.
3. Encourage employees to take leave
It’s one thing to offer maternity and paternity leave, but respecting your employees’ time off goes a step further. Many new dads take little or no time off around the birth of a child.
A study by Boston College’s Center for Work and Families highlights a “tug of commitments” around paternity leave, wherein new dads find it difficult to take time off from work due to deadlines or projects. Companies can erase some of that concern by encouraging employees to take time off and embracing team-building opportunities the leave provides.
4. Offer child care benefits
Figuring out child care is one of the biggest needs — and the biggest expenses — for working families with young children. By offering child care assistance benefits, such as resource and referral or even backup child care, you can eliminate one level of stress and help new or expectant parents focus on work when they’re in the office.
5. Establish employee support groups
Here’s an area where companies like Ernst and Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers are ahead of the curve. Recognizing that starting a family — and returning to work — is a time of enormous transition, EY has developed a career and families transitions coaching program to support men and women welcoming new babies and PWC has a “Mentor Mom” program that matches expectant moms with experienced ones.
6. Create a “culture of permission” and lead by example
Having all of the right programs in place won’t mean a thing if your employees aren’t taking advantage of them. That comes down to culture. Creating a culture of permission in which employees feel comfortable taking personal leave and requesting flexible work arrangements will increase engagement, use of their benefits and loyalty to the company.
Creating this culture should start at the top, with senior leaders setting an example by taking advantage of work-life benefits and making it clear that it’s acceptable, even encouraged, for all employees to do the same.