Should I work while I'm on parental leave?

The Parentaly Team
Nov 1, 2023
Person holding a baby while working on a computer

Resounding feedback from parents who have gone through our coaching programs is how helpful it is to outline when they want to connect with work while they’re on parental leave.

Yet we hear regularly from HR leaders that they don’t ever reach out to employees on leave, largely out of fear they may violate policies that prohibit employees from working while on leave.

We completely understand this concern, but have found two important things:

  • There is a BIG difference between “working” while on leave and “staying in touch with work” while on leave
  • An overwhelming majority of people actually do want some level of staying in touch when it comes to their careers

So why the disconnect?

To get to the bottom of this conundrum, we interviewed Danielle Pickens, a Parentaly coach and mom-of-three, about whether new parents should work or stay in touch while on leave.

Danielle is a Parentaly coach and mom of three who pivoted from a career in HR to become a career coach 10+ years ago.

Here are three questions Danielle asks employees when they’re deciding what level of work they plan to do during parental leave:

1. What’s your intention?

One of the first questions Danielle will ask an expecting parent why they want to stay connected or work while on parental leave.

“Is it coming from a place of, ‘I kind of want to know or be informed of what’s happening so that I can make my own plans? Is it coming from a place of, ‘I feel like I need to be there and no one else can do this?’

There is an obvious upside to letting others take over job roles while on parental leave. It allows the new parent to rest while another employee learns and grows. But there are also instances of projects or strategic planning sessions in which someone on leave might want to be involved. By getting to the bottom of the “why” they want to work, most parents are able to create a plan that works for them—whether that means they’re connected to work or completely unplugged.

2. Are you promising too much?

There’s value in the old adage, “Underpromise and overdeliver.” That’s exactly the mindset Danielle recommends for parents having their first child when they have no idea what they’re in for. “You can always give more. But it’s hard once you say, ‘I want to be in total communication with you,’” to pull back,” she said.Using herself as an example, Danielle shared that by the time she had her third child, she wanted to communicate more with her employer to get some mental stimulation beyond caring for her children. In contrast, Allison told her team she’d be keeping Slack on her phone during her third parental leave, but within 12 hours, knew she had made a mistake. She ended up removing it so she could avoid the temptation to keep an eye on things at work during the first several weeks of her leave. “Once you’ve shut it down, I think most people are surprised by how little they care about work,” she said. “And that’s a good thing.”

3. Are there specific scenarios you might want to be in communication?

Companies should set the expectation that no one on parental leave must stay connected to work. But expecting parents should be able to decide when, if at all, they’d want their employers to contact them. For example, what if their manager leaves? Or what if a position opens up that an employee who is on leave would want to apply for? What if there’s something that will dramatically and materially affect the job they’re in?”These are just a few examples Danielle mentioned that could cause returning parents to be caught off guard if they don’t know about them until they’re back.

Leave planning
Podcast recap
Work discussion

Want to dive deeper into the difference between working and staying connected with work while on parental leave?

Listen to the full episode of The False Tradeoff!