Top questions about managing through parental leave - answered!

Mar 30, 2023

We had a great showing at our public manager training earlier this month, so we recapped our answers to some of the top questions asked about managing through parental leave.

This month we hosted a free training for managers of expecting employees and nearly 400 people registered. 400! This means that:

  • 400 people understood managers play a role in helping expecting employees navigate parental leave successfully 🤩
  • 400 people were eager to learn how they can support their direct reports through such a major life transition 🥹
  • 400 people took matters into their own hands because their company most likely doesn't provide resources to managers to ensure all employees have a consistent experience 😖

Throughout the training, we received a TON of great questions about how to effectively manage through parental leave - ranging from when to start coverage and re-onboarding planning, to how to make the case for parental leave career support programs like ours.

So if you want to hear our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from managers - whether through this public training session or from clients and the thousands of parents and managers going through our programs - look no further!

And get in touch if you want to learn more about our custom manager training workshops!

Have to kick it off with the question that stumped Allison for a minute - watch it here: 

Additional questions from managers & HR leaders about parental leave support

What strategies have you found particularly useful in convincing company leaders to implement a holistic paid parental leave program? 
First you need to figure out if leadership realizes there is a problem. If they’re not aware that they need parental leave programming, focus on two things to get their buy-in: external research and collecting employee (and manager) feedback about the challenges they’re facing related to parental leave.Then you need to move into your recommended solution with ROI data to speak clearly to the business case an investment in a holistic paid parental leave program will bring to your organization.

What are some creative and low-cost ways to implement a solid coverage and return-to-work plan, since many are dealing with "low/no budget" conditions?
Find out whether the cost of bringing in support (like us!) is actually out of the question. Offering paid parental leave means you’ll be paying the employee’s salary already - and does not take into account the less quantifiable impact via business disruption caused by poor planning and re-onboarding.

Ask: Is it really too expensive to spend another $2,000 to protect that investment to do parental leave right?

And if zero budget for career support is the reality, look for free resources that will help you create a basic plan that provides consistency across the board for all employees - and their managers - who are taking leave. We have many free ones on our website here.

Both myself and my coordinator are expecting and 4 weeks apart. It creates a very unique situation - do you have any tips? 
Do we ever! We lived this very same scenario last fall when our CEO and Director of Coaching were due 5 weeks apart. This is a really specific question, but a few things we focused on to make it work for us: 

  • Accelerating hiring timelines: We brought a new member onto the team a few months earlier than planned to help ensure work would be covered efficiently
  • Bringing in the coverage team earlier than normal: Our operations manager got up-to-speed before our suggested 3-month planning to build redundancy early, given our timeline of close leaves
  • Leveraging each other’s coverage plans: We co-created our coverage plans to be more efficient, even though it meant one started a little earlier and one started a little later - because it made sense given the overlapping leaves 

Other than absolute flexibility to go to appointments and encourage employees to take as much as they can of their parental leave, what else can we do to support working parents?
One thing that comes up a lot is remote work. We’ve seen a trend with companies creating an official policy that for the first 3-6 months employees return from any type of leave, they can work from home or have a hybrid schedule. This shows empathy and that you recognize how difficult this transition period is.

Can discussing career goals be tricky if the employee is unsure if/how they want to return? 
Discussing career goals doesn’t have to be focused only on long-term career ambitions - it can be as simple as speaking with your direct report about two things: Which parts of their job are energy lifting and which parts are energy draining?

Having this conversation prior to their leave is hugely impactful because understanding what they look forward to vs. what they dread helps managers as they wind down an employee’s role before leave. It gives them the opportunity to think about their return-to-work plans through the lens of making sure they come back to work that feels meaningful to them.

How can leaders demonstrate business value for a slow return to work, and how would they implement that?
Our manager checklist gets into the specifics on what a return-to-work schedule should look like. But if leadership pushes back on having a ramp back period, try to reframe their thinking: just like they likely wouldn’t be comfortable eliminating new hire onboarding, a parent employee returning after months of leave also needs time to get up-to-speed vs. diving right back into execution mode on day one.

Can you speak to how we approach asking employees for work / travel opportunities who are
about to go on leave or who have just returned without excluding or pressuring them? 
This REALLY comes down to trust because it’s important to ensure your direct report knows they have the choice; that there are zero expectations and no judgements will be made based on what they decide.

It’s all about the way you present it. Let them know it’s happening, that you want them to know they have the opportunity to do it - but be supportive and clear - with no expectations and they can make the choice for themselves.

How soon is too soon to start approaching the planning process?
To level-set: We believe the employee should drive coverage planning to ensure they have agency in their careers. Managers play a supporting role by advising them through the process, escalating their concerns and ensuring the rest of the team is set up for success. The return-to-work re-onboarding is where managers should drive the experience.

That said, as a rule of thumb, we suggest expecting employees begin coverage planning 2-3 months prior to their child’s expected arrival date. The key with coverage planning is to be detailed AND effective - and starting much earlier than this may lead to additional work re-doing it due to how much could change.

Note: Not every path to parenthood is the same. For example: An adoptive parent may learn of their placement just days or weeks before their child arrives. Keep this in mind and focus the coverage planning on the individual’s experience and adjust the timeline with the information you receive.

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