HR Management & Compliance

Employee Focus: How to Help Employees Return from Parental Leave

Employees returning from parental leave, whether that’s maternity/paternity leave or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, often have a unique set of needs to ease their transition back into working full-time. This is important for employers to be cognizant of, not the least of which is to reduce the incidence of employees leaving the organization not long after expanding their family. Employers don’t want to lose good employees.

Source: Halfpoint / shutterstock

Parental leave is often taken at a time when an employee is under a lot of stress. The family is growing, and even in the absence of any medical issues or problems along the way, this is a huge transition. Employers can do a lot to help. Here are a few examples:

  • First things first: Examine the parental leave policy itself. Are there ways it can be expanded to benefit employees? Can the time away be lengthened? Can more pay be offered? If the employer doesn’t currently offer any parental leave beyond FMLA leave, consider whether it’s beneficial to add a specific parental leave policy.
  • For employers with maternity leave but no paternity leave options, consider adding paternity leave options to the benefits offered.
  • Examine related policies, like healthcare policies, to ensure employees are getting the support they need for their physical and mental health. Consider adding on-site health care or telemedicine if it doesn’t already exist.
  • Ensure your employee assistance program (EAP) is communicated well and can be utilized by new parents if needed. (If no EAP exists, consider adding this benefit.)
  • Allow a transition period in which the employee comes back to work only part-time for a set number of weeks and transitions back to full-time gradually.
  • Consider offering other benefits that are useful to new parents, like on-site child care or childcare vouchers or discounts. Having a backup childcare service is also an option.
  • If appropriate, allow parents to bring children to work when emergencies arise.
  • Ensure as much flexibility as possible is incorporated into working hours and policies around absences. Consider allowing flexible hours or later start times upon request. Be aware of employees’ new working hours, and be careful not to schedule anything important at times you know they’ll miss.
  • Ensure the workplace has private rooms for those who are lactating. Ensure the culture supports the breaks required to do this. (Note that this is a legal requirement, as well; check local laws for details.)
  • Be sure to communicate often with employees who are returning to see how things are going and to ensure they’re at the right workload level as they transition back. Communicate frequently about the return in advance, as well; get ahead of their questions so you can anticipate needs. Keep the lines of communication open, and anticipate changes along the way to any plans that have been made.
  • Take the time to welcome the employee back. As they’ve just undergone a major life transition, it will likely feel quite different returning from this type of leave than returning from any other type of leave.
  • Be proactive in getting them back up to speed on what has happened while they’ve been away. Work with other employees as needed to make this happen.

Doing things like this can show employees they’re valued and will make it easier for them to stay on board even in times of transition. Obviously, some of these things are best undertaken by an individual’s manager rather than HR. In those instances, HR’s role can be to support managers and to support the working culture for this to happen—or to offer training and suggestions to managers.