Written by Amy Major, Chloe Milano and Alice Chilver, all currently on maternity leave from their respective roles at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford (Amy) and University College London (Chloe and Alice).
Parental leave is daunting at the best of times. It’s a huge change, certainly full of excitement, but potentially fraught with anxiety around a departure from the ‘normal’.
During the global crisis of Covid-19, everyone’s world at work has been turned upside down and so too has the experience of those of us on parental leave. It’s not what we had imagined, planned or hoped for.
The idea of returning to work brings with it a whole new raft of uncertainty. However well we are keeping in touch with our teams, it can only be a fair judgement that we are ‘out of the loop’. The one thing we know for certain, is that things will be different.
As women on maternity leave in this unprecedented time, we are experiencing first hand what works and what doesn’t, what’s helpful and what isn’t. Here we present a set of ideas for those wishing to support their colleagues on parental leave, for managers as well as peers.
Whatever the path ahead, it is crucial that both parties treat each other not only according to organisational policy but more importantly than ever, with a sense of human values, perhaps most importantly, inclusion.
As simple as it sounds. Reach out and say hello, see how they are and exchange your stories of life in lockdown.
What did they bring to the team that you are now missing? Tell them. Tell them what you are looking forward to about them returning to the team.
All discussions should be purposeful. A balance of information giving and gathering. Do more asking than telling to ensure good planning and appropriate support.
From the point you become aware they intend to take leave, ensure they are fully informed of the relevant information. Point them to organisational policies and guidance available and make sure they know who they can contact at any stage if they have questions.
Think about them when you are making plans for the future and make sure they know how you’ve been doing this. Talk to them and agree how much detail they’d like to know before sharing planned changes, big or small. Continue to provide information about job and development opportunities as they arise. Whilst important not to put pressure on those on leave, providing information and opportunity is still essential. There will be those who wish to return to the same role. However, periods of leave allow mental space for some to consider their careers and professional development. Many attest to the benefits of coaching whilst on leave to help clarify aims and objectives for returning.
This may vary massively between individuals. Some may prefer to be contacted only with essential information on a personal email, while others may wish to continue to view work emails and more regularly check in with colleagues. Revisit whatever plans you had made previously to see how can these be adjusted to suit the new working environment? Are they still relevant and valuable to you both?
Coming back to work can be daunting so planning re-induction as soon as possible is crucial. Get colleagues to start to think about a re-induction plan for welcoming and onboarding them back into the team and supporting their adjustment to the team’s new ways of working. Asking specific questions such as who would they like to catch up with? Would they benefit from refresher training? How would they like to be briefed on developments while they’ve been off can be helpful.
Employers have an important role in ensuring support is available for mental health and wellbeing. This is increasing exponentially as we all navigate the various implications of pandemic. There are many reasons why an employee may require support in the period leading up to, during and after parental leave. Where possible, managers should draw attention to support available. Examples may include employee assistance programmes, workplace health services and health and wellbeing resources.
Requesting some kind of flexible working is common upon returning from periods of parental leave. It is important to remember that there are many different forms of flexible working that benefit both individuals and organisations. Instigating discussions around this is highly recommended, rather than simply responding. There is strong evidence in research that supporting flexible working where reasonable and practical helps build trust and increase motivation and productivity.
This call is part of your busy day. For parents, special arrangements will have been made so that the child can be looked after for your call, please be on time and please be present.
We will need all of the support and encouragement possible to ensure a smooth transition back to work, please help ease concerns by helping us to look on the bright side of change.
Providing information about support and opportunities is helpful. Making assumptions about how an individual feels, wants or would benefit from is not. Please ask, don’t assume as a general rule of thumb.
Do you have other helpful ideas to support colleagues on parental leave? Please tell us and let's do all we can to help.
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