7 Ways Companies Can Help New Parents Transition Back to Work

Aug. 6, 2014

Supporting employees with babies on the way is the first step to aiding new parents in their transition back to work post-baby. 

For many working families, the excitement of having a baby goes hand-in-hand with apprehension about achieving work-life integration once their child arrives.

But awareness around work-life issues is high. Leading employers are proving that supporting working families -- through things like paid leave, benefits programs and flexible work arrangements -- can be good for business. And, by getting ahead of some of the anxiety by having the right programs in place, companies can help new parents make a smoother transition back to work post-baby.

Here are seven ways your company can help new and expectant parents with their transition back to work.  

  1. Plan Ahead

Supporting new parents in the workplace should start long before the baby arrives. Document outstanding projects or any client services on the docket, along with coverage plans and relevant contact information, in a transition memo well ahead of when the expectant mother or father-to-be is scheduled to go out on parental leave.

“It can give that employee who is about to go out on leave a real sense that nothing is going to fall through the cracks while they’re away, so they can focus on what’s really important -- caring for a new family member,” says Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs for the Society of Human Resources Management.

2. Offer Parental Leave

The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate any form of paid leave for new mothers. Even the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees after the birth or adoption of a child, only covers a small percentage of working parents. So -- unless you’re in California, New Jersey or Rhode Island, which have programs providing paid leave to new parents -- it falls to employers to provide parental leave (paid or unpaid). With only about 15 percent of companies offering any paid time off for maternity or paternity leave, providing the benefit has been a recruiting and retention tool for those that do.

Read more about Companies with Great Maternity Leave and Companies That Offer Great Paternity Leave

3. Encourage Employees to Take It  

It’s one thing to offer maternity and paternity leave, but respecting your employees’ time off goes a step further. Many new dads take little or no time off around the birth of a child. A study by Boston College’s Center for Work and Families highlights a “tug of commitments” around paternity leave, wherein new dads find it difficult to take time off from work due to deadlines or projects. But companies could erase some of that concern by encouraging employees to take time off and embracing team-building opportunities the leave provides.

Read more about Why New Dads Don’t Take Paternity Leave

“Parental leave is meaningful for parents at home, and it can help the health of the team at work,” says Chris Duchesne, vice president of Global Workplace Solutions at Care.com. “When someone is out on leave, co-workers step up and managers can recognize new abilities and aptitudes.”

4. Offer Child Care Benefits

Figuring out child care is one of the biggest needs -- and the biggest expenses -- for working families with young children. By offering child care assistance benefits, such as resource and referral or even backup child care, you can eliminate one level of stress and help new or expectant parents focus on work when they’re in the office.

5. Be Flexible

Transitioning back to work post-baby can be difficult for new parents, who’ll be leaving their bundles of joy for the first time. Offering flexible work arrangements, such as job shares, flexible hours, compressed weeks or telecommuting can help new parents ease back into the workplace.

6. Establish Employee Support Groups

Here’s an area where companies like Ernst and Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers are ahead of the curve. Recognizing that starting a family -- and returning to work -- is a time of enormous transition, EY has developed a career and families transitions coaching program to support men and women welcoming new babies and PWC has a “Mentor Mom” program that matches expectant moms with experienced ones.

Read more about Ways Companies are Helping New Moms

7. Create a ‘Culture of Permission’

Having all of the right programs in place won’t mean a thing if your employees aren’t taking advantage of them. That comes down to culture, according to Duchesne, who suggests “creating a culture of permission in which employees feel comfortable taking personal leave and requesting flexible work arrangements.”

As for how to achieve this culture shift, he says it should start at the top, with senior leaders setting an example by taking advantage of work-life benefits and making it clear that it’s acceptable, even encouraged, for all employees to do the same.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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