Three ways to hold on to return to work parents following parental leave

Mum working at home with a baby in the background


Updated 17/12/2020

In July 2019, the Office for National Statistics estimated that the unemployment rate in the UK was 3.8%, which was the lowest since records began in 1974[1]. Even though there was a shrinking pool of available candidates at that point in time, employers did not take advantage of the number of return-to-work parents on the market. Employers have notoriously not had a great track record with supporting parents in the past: at the time, PWC reported that 37% of new mothers didn’t take their full maternity leave entitlement, citing career pressure and the feeling that taking time off would “undermine their standing” with their employer[2] as the main reasons.

This issue is economic as well as social. Simply put, companies will lose out on the highly-skilled talent they’ve invested in. The lost potential means that there is an economic cost to employers if they don’t take proactive steps in supporting parents returning to work.

At Tiger, we believe the thinking around this issue needs to be changed, so we’ve put together a few practical ways employers can retain their return to work parents.

Understand that parents’ time off wasn’t ‘time off’

There is a huge misconception around the idea that when an employee goes on parental leave, the gap in their CV means they lose their capability to go back to work in the same capacity. However, caring for an infant can be more stressful and tiring than their regular employment. This means that an employee’s motivation to return to the office can be significant, and they’re ready to work at 110% efficiency. They may also see a return to work as a change of pace, meaning they’ll be more prepared to dedicate their energy to resuming their old role as successfully as possible. With this in mind, sit down with them to fully understand what they’d like to see from their return, brief the team accordingly and prepare a training strategy that will help them get back up to speed.

Utilise their new skills

While every workplace has its unique challenges, the demanding nature of parenthood means that your employee on will have experienced things they never would have in the workplace. Through this new period of their lives, they have actually gained transferrable skills which are too often underutilised by employers. For example, a new parent may have developed their emotional intelligence while they have been away, which can be optimised to successfully diffuse conflicts and manage individuals effectively at work. Another skill they have developed is their time management, as they now have to work efficiently to balance their work and family commitments. Work with your return-to-work parent to ensure these new skills are working for the business as effectively as possible.

Support them through the process

An employee can’t thrive at work without adequate support. There are actions you can take before and after their time away to help them with their transition. For example, ensure a good handover between them and their interim replacement is in place to avoid any hiccups. After a parent has returned to work, it becomes a give-and-take situation between both of you! For example, be transparent that your offered flexibility is dependent on them getting the job done and managing their time effectively. If you create an environment where an employee feels trusted and the communication lines are open, it will go a long way to motivating them to do their best for you.

Practically, you can foster a positive workplace culture for people with young families with the addition of a few initiatives. Implementing ‘bring your children to work’ and ‘keep in touch’ days will allow both parents and children to feel more comfortable with the separation. Schemes like flexible working and returnship options can be a great way to allow your employee to adjust to their new work and family balance. When they are in the office, workshops and buddy programs specifically designed for parents can help when the employee needs support and advice.

Embrace flexible working  

Employees are motivated by the freedom to deliver work on their terms and will consequently produce a standard of work that excels that of a standard nine-to-fiver looking to climb the ladder. It’s been proven time and again that happy workers are the most productive. And its flexibility and empathy from our employer that enables this happiness.

For an employee to feel connected to and motivated by their employer, mutual understanding is critical. This requires the employer to truly empathise with the person – not just the employee – and appreciate the complexity of their lives outside of the workplace, regardless of children. Unfortunately, if this doesn’t happen, the employee will be spurred on to seek out a more ‘caring’ work environment. This is the point when you lose all that accrued intellectual property from your return-to-work parent realise the costs of hiring and training someone new.

True flexible working is much more than a line written into an employment contract. A strategic approach by a business requires a clear, well-coordinated goal driving it forward and ensuring it is part of a broader cultural change, not just a perk. Aligning flexibility to the overall business purpose and objectives will ensure it’s embedded into the company ethos, and thus gets the best possible results.

Tiger has put together a guide to help in improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/EMPLOYMENTANDLABOURMARKET/PEOPLEINWORK/EMPLOYMENTANDEMPLOYEETYPES/BULLETINS/UKLABOURMARKET/JULY2019

[2] https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/about/diversity/iwd/international-womens-day-pwc-time-to-talk-report.pdf

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team

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