How People Managers Can Prepare Employees For Parental Leave

d&i strategies managing working parents maternity leave pregnancy Oct 24, 2017

As a people manager, the role you play in helping a pregnant employee or an expecting parent to transition onto a parental break has a significant impact on the individual's ability to exit and return with confidence and commitment.

It’s normal to be daunted by the prospect of a conversation with an employee who is expecting a child, but there is no need to feel that way. Here are some steps you can take to make sure the transition is a positive experience for everyone involved - including you!

Understand Parental Leave Entitlement Options

We strongly recommend that you speak to your HR department and understand the key policies and benefits available for expectant parents in your organisation. There are now ever increasing parental leave options available to employees based on a widening pool of scenarios. This is great news all round for both employees and managers! More and more businesses are introducing much needed inclusive policies to provide men and women with the opportunity to look after their children.  

Parental leave policies and supporting legislation does vary from country to country and even region to region. Be prepared by understanding some of the scenarios you might encounter as a manager with an employee seeking parental leave...

  • Pregnant women who will become the primary carers during the first few months following the baby’s birth. 

  • Primary carers (male or female) whose partner or spouse gave birth, who have adopted a child, or who have taken on permanent care arrangements. 

  • Married couples, civil partnership couples, same sex and heterosexual couples, separated parents sharing care, couples in some surrogacy arrangements, and prospective adopters. 

  • Those seeking shared parental leave. This is another option offered in some organisations, which allows both parents to share the leave period one at a time. This type of policy is designed to provide the opportunity for parents and adopters to plan for the shared care of their child with greater flexibility.

Set Expectations And Be A Useful Guide

Your employee is likely to be nervous and have lots of questions, so it’s important for you to confidently guide them through the process and various options available. Make them feel at ease by encouraging them to be open with their questions and concerns, and inviting them to plan the next steps with you.

You will need to guide them through the following…

  • The formal processes of requesting parental leave including how to apply and deadlines

  • Company policy on maternity appointments, antenatal classes, etc

  • What the benefits are for expectant employees and new parents at your organisations

  • How taking time off for parental leave will affect their pay, pension, etc

  • For pregnant employees, assess their individual work role and adjust tasks accordingly (this will need to be handled very sensitively as a two way discussion)

Provide Support For Leave Preparations

Naturally, your employee will have a list of work-related tasks they plan to complete before they go on leave. However there are other things they need to be preparing for too, and they will need your support during this time.

Make sure that you work with your employee to create a handover plan that works for them and for your organisation. Be aware that the date they plan to go on leave may be brought forward for a variety of reasons, and there needs to be a contingency for that.

It’s important for you to check in with them regularly to see how they are feeling and if your plans are working. It may be that the workload you both planned is proving too much or that some other work tasks need tweaking or handing over early. If you are aware of any potential issues in advance then you are less likely to be faced with problems during the transition.

Consider What Will Happen Once Leave Has Started

Once your employee is on leave, it becomes much more difficult to get in touch with them so it’s best to have open and honest discussions about absence and return while they are still at work. Consider the following…

  • How does your employee prefer to be contacted once they are on leave? Do they want to be kept in the loop on certain projects and invited to social events or do they want to break away completely?

  • Do they already have an idea of when they might like to return? Make sure they know that it’s ok to change their mind later. It’s also a good idea to discuss ‘keeping in touch’ days. 

  • Is there any potential for flexible working once they return? Is that something they might want?

Also consider any changes coming up at your organisation over the next 12 months that may affect this employee and what you can do to make it easier - even if that’s just giving them advance notice to help prepare them. Office refurbishments, restructuring, new team members, and new objectives can all be disruptive for a returning employee. Finally, plan a one-to-one meeting as soon as they return to work so that you can ensure the process of reintegration is as smooth as possible.

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