Lately there’s been more and more discussion around parental leave. Who legally has to offer it. Who goes above and beyond. Who pays for it. Who doesn’t.

But what isn’t often discussed is the risk you face of losing your employees while they’re on parental leave. Not just to full-time parenthood – but to your competitors. This isn’t just something to think about in terms of women who work for you – 50% of men say they’ve passed up work opportunities or switched jobs after they’ve had kids.

There are few times within a person’s career when they’re more susceptible to being approached than when they’re in the new fog of parenthood. People are disconnected from their role and organisation – even when engagement is high. During this time people are far more likely to be revaluating their priorities, what they enjoy, and what they want to be doing when they’re ready to re-join the workforce.

Last year I went on parental leave to have my first baby. Despite working in HR for many years, I wasn’t quite prepared for the up-ending that taking a break from my role would mean for me in how I saw myself and my career going forward.

My former employers did a great job of trying to keep me engaged. They were accommodating in my hours of work as I worked through severe ‘morning sickness’ (the name of it which still makes me laugh). They were very thoughtful when sending me off from my role. They agreed to me coming in for meetings now and again (at my request) with my baby, so I could stay connected with my team.

So why did I accept a role at another organisation when approached as I neared the end of my leave? (And what made me consider this role, rather than the offers I had prior to going on parental leave?)

Changes were happening, and they made me uneasy

While I was on leave there were some major changes within our leadership team, including a couple of people leaving who I worked with closely. I found out about these changes on the grapevine, rather than directly from my team. This made me nervous – were my role and key objectives going to change on my return? When would I know more?

I wanted career progression when others assumed I’d want to put my career on hold

Not linear career progression, but new projects, challenges and opportunities. I started to feel (whether this was rooted in any truth was irrelevant) that my new role as a ‘New Mother’ was defining me in my interactions with some people at work (please note, this was not true of the organisation as a whole, but it was true enough with some people that I felt limited).

I had originally intended to take a relatively short break of 7 months; however, I was approached by my current company who wanted to meet me in relation to a role they had come up. I initially said no but due to a superb recruiter I came and met her and the reporting Executive. It was (professional) love at first sight.

  • They reassured me they knew what it was like to juggle babies and work
  • They had created a role that had heaps of opportunity to deliver on outcomes – and help shape the focus of HR
  • The role was an excellent career step for me
  • They were unbelievably awesome at what they did (people say people leave managers? I would challenge you to think about that flipped – I joined because of a manager).

In the end, my decision to leave my role came down to quite a few reasons – and I must be honest, there were a couple of times when I regretted making such a big change at the time that I did.

If you’re thinking about how to keep your people engaged when they’re on parental leave, steal some tips from employers that do it brilliantly:

  • Remember that different employees may want different things – no matter your approach be clear that you can accommodate individuals wants and needs accordingly
  • Utilize technology – you don’t have to just rely on emails and phone calls – Pinterest & Reddit both offer employees access to parenting app Cleo and there are other similar things out there
  • Be inclusive – families come in many different forms and it pays to run a critical eye over any materials/advice you’re circulating. Don’t assume the primary carer is a woman, remember same-sex parents, and don’t accidentally not include adoptive parents – they need accommodations too!
  • Find out more about organisations similar to yours who are ranked highly in terms of appeal to parents – Fortune Magazine has a list of the best 50 workplaces for parents and you can also check out lists of employers that promote gender equity (as often a factor in calculating this is recognising flexibility for any parent rather than just women)
  • The best advice though? ASK YOUR EMPLOYEES! What do they value? What benefits/approach would they appreciate. Being a great employer for new parents doesn’t necessarily need to cost big dollars – workplace flexibility is priceless!

 

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