There is nothing like parental leave and a new baby to shine the spotlight on personal wellbeing and job satisfaction. It can create the perfect storm for emotions to run high about returning to work, and about the workplace as a whole. If not managed proactively and sensitively, this can have an effect on engagement, retention, job satisfaction, employee relations and performance.
To show a real commitment to employee engagement, employers need to go beyond lip-service and commit to working parents in consistent and meaningful ways.
Firstly, employers should recognise that returning to work after a period of parental leave can be daunting. Statistics from The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), last updated on 25 May 2018, show that women who may be concerned about pregnancy discrimination and workplace disadvantage have good grounds. Proactive steps to acknowledge and counter these concerns to support a positive and confident return to work can reap rewards.
The issue of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can be a real concern for parents on leave, more so for longer periods of absence. Employers might be reticent about bothering staff who are on parental leave, but reasonable contact is allowed and should be encouraged. Organisations should work to keep the lines of communication open, sharing news and updates, both good and bad, use keeping-in-touch days to help the transition back to work, and assuage concerns about being replaced by the maternity cover.
A little flexibility goes a long way and can be worth more than a pay rise. Small adjustments can have a disproportionate effect on making life easier for working parents; for example, limiting out-of-hours engagements.
Employers, therefore, need to be transparent about the available options for parents, including outlining flexible-working opportunities and promoting positive role models.
Esther Langdon is an employment lawyer at international law firm Vedder Price