Paid maternity and paternity leave has been a long-debated topic in the United States, as it is one of the last remaining developed countries without formal legislation in place guaranteeing working parents paid time off to care for their new babies. As more and more companies today look to support new parents in the workplace by independently offering parental leave packages, they are still seeing parents exiting the workforce—particularly new moms.
In one poll, 61% of women said family responsibilities were the main reason they weren’t working. So, what can employers do to better retain their female talent and reduce high turnover costs?
There is a noticeable gap that exists between the leaps in paid leave policies and the 11% of companies offering supportive programs for parents reentering the workforce. That gap accounts for company cultures that aren’t adequately prepared or structured for new moms finding success after maternity leave.
After such a massive shift at home, employees shouldn’t be expected to return to work and pick up exactly where they left off with no noticeable change in working style, schedule, interactions, etc. What’s more, maternal bias is still a huge hurdle we need to overcome. It’s been proven that moms are unjustly viewed as less competent and career-oriented than other employees, and consequently, 42% of women worry that growing their family will hurt their career.
Preventing biases and shifting company culture to support working mothers and smooth the transition back to work after maternity leave are no small tasks. Making measurable, tangible changes in the workplace can help build a foundation of understanding and support among managers, colleagues, and HR before, during, and after leave.
Creating a supportive environment means implementing standard practices for employees that keep the lines of communication open and ensure the employees are clear on what the process will be like during this critical time in their personal and professional life. Listening to their needs and letting them ask questions are the first steps (after congratulations!), and then clearly defining a timeline and leave plan will help put their minds at ease and eliminate uncertainty about what’s to come.
As leave approaches, 3 months before an employee’s due date is the time to also develop a coverage and communications plan to ensure a smooth handoff of responsibilities to team members. During the transition period just before maternity leave starts (and knowing that the exact date maternity leave starts is sometimes uncontrollable and needs flexibility), managers and HR should discuss the employee’s goals so that she still has a career path and that it’s reiterated before leave occurs.
Stay Connected to Employees on Leave
Maternity leave also does not mean you cut off lines of communication until the employee is back at her desk. Our back-to-work coaches at Maven recommend a two-thirds rule: Have a scheduled time to touch base two-thirds of the way through leave to determine an exact return-to-work date, as well as define a flexible work schedule.
Recovery time and expectations for new parents can be hard to estimate before you give birth, so touching base two-thirds of the way through gives an employee a chance to determine what timing is realistic and doable now that her baby has arrived. HR and managers should also be in touch directly with any major news or announcements that will be made external or new hiring plans that directly impact colleague/internal restructurings. The employee should be kept in the loop regarding any major changes in the workplace to lessen the burden of ramping up once she has returned to work.
When maternity leave does end and the employee starts working again, the measures you took before and during leave will contribute to how she feels about getting back to work. Continue that support by reminding colleagues to check in with their coworker on her first day back, to respect her new calendar and schedule, and to make her feel welcome in the workplace (especially when it’s common to feel anxious about being separated from your new baby for the first time).
Regular manager and HR check-ins and catch-up sessions should also be common practice to make sure employees don’t feel in the dark about what happened in the time they were out and feel fully equipped to be successful in their role.
Paid leave is essential for new parents to give them time to bond with their baby and give new moms time to heal physically and emotionally from the experience of birth. But, paid leave in a silo is not a catch-all for working parent happiness. We know this because despite 74% of moms saying they “love their careers,” 43% leave their job within 1 year of having a baby. For parents to feel fully supported at work, that support needs to be felt when planning for a child, while pregnant, and when returning to work. Closing the gap for new moms will be the catalyst for retaining more women at work and changing the narrative for working parents in the United States.
Kate Ryder is Founder and CEO at Maven Clinic.