The starting point for supporting pregnant women and parents returning from extended parental leave must be an empathetic culture where people feel valued, where line managers have the information they need to support staff, and where that support is recognised by their own managers.
When it comes to policies, it is vital that employers embrace different family set-ups. Teach First, which won this year’s workingmums.co.uk Top employer award for family support, makes a point of saying it recognises diverse family circumstances and backs this up with a range of enhanced policies on everything from parental bereavement leave to premature birth and neonatal care leave. The best employers make their parental leave policies externally accessible for talent attraction purposes, knowing that more candidates are doing their research.
Many employers also offer one-to-ones with managers before parents go on leave and after they return, which cover everything from anxieties on return to flexible working. Many now have parent-led forums or networks, which may feature expert speakers on a number of parenting issues, as well as feed into HR policy or just offer a space to talk. Some match those returning from extended parental leave up with buddies and mentors who have been through the experience before and can offer empathy and advice, as well as signpost to other support. Others hire external maternity and paternity coaches, provide breastfeeding areas or on-site childcare.
Some employers also allow a phased return from leave on full pay, given that it is often those first months back when parents need time to adjust and get into new routines which are the hardest. A phased return may make the difference between someone returning successfully and someone dropping out having decided they can’t manage.
Parental leave is one example of how employers are handling periods of extended leave, which will surely increase as many of us work longer. The furlough scheme also shows the need for careful thinking about how to reintegrate workers after extended leave. Good parental leave policies provide a useful template for some of the key HR retention challenges.
Mandy Garner is managing editor of workingmums.co.uk