How to support your employees after they return from parental leave

Are you the manager of an employee who has just returned from parental leave? Here's what you need to know about supporting them as well as their family.


Supporting your employees returning to work from parental leave can be challenging. New parents during the perinatal period go through a range of physical, emotional and psychological changes in a short space of time, and often don’t feel fully prepared to return to work so soon in the same capacity as before. Ensuring there is seamless support throughout parental leave and the return to work plays a vital role in promoting good mental health in new parents, at a time when they can be particularly vulnerable. There is a distinct need for more support for employers too, as 1 in 4 employers say the uncertainty around whether those on maternity leave would return to work was difficult for them to manage. 

Is your parental leave policy working?

Before setting out to make any adjustments, it’s important to first assess your current parental leave policy and how it’s working. Are employees satisfied with the length of leave? Are they returning to work feeling prepared and still producing an excellent standard of work? Are you offering flexible working or adjustments for new parents? These are just a handful of questions to ask yourself. Sending out an anonymous survey to employees regarding their views on the organisation’s parental leave policy is a helpful way to understand what is working and what isn’t.

Listening to your employees’ needs and understanding they will require some adjustments such as flexible working hours is beneficial to both the business and the workforce. This takes the expectation off new parents of having to work in exactly the same way they did before the arrival of their child, whilst letting businesses get the best out of them. 

Be flexible or lose valuable employees

Returning to work after parental leave is unlikely to be the same as it was pre-pandemic, raising new challenges for managing this transition. Employees will most likely remain working from home after taking a leave of absence. This means adopting flexible working practices that are essential as they strive to care for their new child and adjust to parenting while still fulfilling their professional responsibilities. 

Discussing flexible working options before employees return to work will demonstrate your understanding of the new changes in their life and help them to feel valued and thus reduce the likelihood of them leaving after paternity leave. With 23% of maternity leavers not returning to work after paid leave allowance, making reasonable adjustments for them and being sensitive to the impact of leave can make a world of difference when it comes to retaining talented employees.

Ensure your policies are inclusive 

Respecting and valuing your employees as whole individuals is not only good for their sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, but also benefits your business. By integrating more flexible and inclusive policies in addition to parental paid leave, you could see greater commitment and loyalty from employees. Alongside this, you’ll see a boost to your organisation’s reputation for being an employer who goes above and beyond for their employees. 

A vital aspect of this includes ensuring that your policies and regulations reflect the diverse nature of your workforce. Single, LGBTQ+, adoptive and surrogate parents should all be included in your policies, and are all equally entitled to the same amount of leave. Parental leave that’s gendered often reinforces traditional parental roles. When only female employees are given their full parental leave entitlement, it implies that women should assume the bulk of child caring responsibilities, which does not encourage gender equality in the workplace. 

Equally, the need for bonding time also applies to adopted children over the age of 5 as they may face a bigger adjustment period into a new household. These parents may also need time to make child care arrangements. This means new adoptive parents may require adoption leave or need to spend time working from home with staggered working hours. 

Frequently communicate to understand your employees’ needs 

Every parent has different needs, responsibilities and priorities. Ensuring that your policies are flexible and encompass these differences is essential in ensuring you’re offering meaningful support and promoting occupational health. 

For example, a manager’s understanding of the challenges associated with perinatal mental health can also make a huge difference for those suffering from postpartum depression. Lack of communication is often noted as a major issue for parents on parental leave, with 45% of mothers reporting a problem with employer contact while on maternity leave, and 26% reporting too little contact.

By maintaining an agreed level of communication with working parents, you can ensure that the office is well prepared to cater to the needs of those returning. 57% of mothers have stated that they would be happy to express breast milk at work. In instances where mothers want to continue breastfeeding at work, having those early conversations before their arrival would ensure that the office has allocated private rooms with sockets or fridges to enable expressing milk during working hours.

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