10 Steps to Get New Parents to Return after Leave

parental leave

As a coach specializing in parental leave transition, Karen Rubin has seen organizations successfully ; and not so successfully ; transition employees back to work after a baby. And as the managing director of Talking Talent, a leading parental leave coaching and consulting company, she can predict how well it's going to go based on how much thought went into the before, during, and after-leave process. What does it take to get it right? While no two employees are the same, she says ultimately keeping new parents will come down to a set of about 10 very predictable steps.

Plan ahead

Transition for a parental leave should start months ahead with identified stakeholders implementing a plan that gets everyone aligned and rowing in the same direction. "There's a lot of groundwork required to minimize disruptions and keep work on track," says Karen. "All of that needs to start as early as possible."

Ask the right pre-leave questions

Some people feel they should stay quite connected while on leave; others want to completely disconnect. While either is fine, conflicts occur when the boss's and employee's expectations are out of synch. Your best bet, says Karen: ask employees what they want their leave to look like!and honor it.

Ask the right post-leave questions

A manager who presumes a new parent wants to dial back ; "I know you just had a baby so let's make this easy on you" ; may unintentionally communicate a lack of confidence and what Karen calls " benevolent discrimination." Instead, ask employees specific questions, such as what work they want to take back, and if there's anything they'd like to delegate. Done right, says Karen, "People start looking at leave as a really wonderful succession-planning exercise."

Train your managers

The biggest miss in many returns is the failure to train managers ; the people, Karen says, who make or break the process. "A lot of managers don't have ill intent. They're trying their best, but they don't know what to say or how to have the conversation."

Recruit your leadership

Get some champions at a really senior level to talk about leave. "When high-level people talk about it and become role models for their own leave and/or caregiving responsibilities, it opens a door for everyone."

Avoid the impression of leave as a CLM (career limiting move)

New parents are notoriously fearful for their jobs. So confidence goes a long way toward retention. "Make it clear that the employee is valued and that the organization looks forward to their return," Karen says. "This helps expectant parents worry less about what might happen to their jobs while they're on leave. It also helps to tell positive stories of people who have successfully come back."

Pave the road out

Successful leave is not just about who is going out!but who is left behind. A playbook of delegation ; including temporary outsourcing for backfill if necessary ; is essential. "What you don't want to do," says Karen, "is to create a difficult situation for the remaining team."

Pave the road back

How will parents recoup their professional territory? "You want to avoid situations in which a parent wants assignments returned but the pinch-hitter wants to keep them."

Be flexible

Research shows over and over again that flexibility is huge. "People have outside lives and they want to work flexibly," says Karen. "It's true for all employees, and it's especially true for parents."

Illustrate tangible support

Child care support is essential. Lactation support is important. Without such things, people have a hard time seeing the road back. All of the above comes down to one overall goal: preserving your pipeline. Parenthood ; especially motherhood ; is a key career inflection point. And employers are starting to take note. "We're seeing an increasing investment and focus on managing this break," says Karen. "The payoff is you're going to see reduced attrition. You're also going to have a leg up on attracting talent because your company will be a place people want to work." 

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.