Retaining vital talent through supporting parental returners

Taking time out of the workplace for a significant period to start a family, or to extend an existing family, can have huge challenges and a negative impact on career development – especially for women.  Despite an increasing level of support from partners, women still hold the majority burden of childcare and parental responsibility and so tend to be impacted the most. 

According to the Peterson Institute Research, firms with more women in C-suite positions are 15% more profitable. This provides a further compelling reason alongside the diversity and inclusion agenda, to support women to return to work in a positive, empowered and confident way.

It is a mistake however, to think that a period out of the workplace to raise a family halts development.  When we get new parents to stop and think about what they have actually learnt whilst they have been doing their ‘other job,’ they realise that they haven’t stopped developing and in fact, they have learnt a range of highly desirable transferable skills.  These skills are developed in a relatively short time and are hugely important for organisations to utilise and retain:

  • Time & project management – ability to juggle priorities and focus on what is really important to achieve goals.
  • Adaptability and agility – being able to change the course of action swiftly due to a change in circumstances.
  • Assessing risks – weighing up options and selecting the best course of action.
  • Influencing others – being able to negotiate effectively to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Compassion – being empathetic with others and developing a greater emotional intelligence.
  • Problem solving – thinking creatively, often under pressure to resolve issues quickly.

These skills would be top of any organisation’s list of desirable attributes for high performing employees.  So why is it they often fail to support people in their return to work and instead loose these valuable skills?

I have been privileged to work with a large government sector organisation for the last 12 months supporting their parents return to work after maternity, shared parental or adoptive leave.  Over the last 6 months they have had to deal with the usual challenges of a return to work with an overlay of additional emotional upheaval due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Here are my insights into what areas are most important when transitioning parents back to the workplace.

Supporting people through the emotional transition

When thinking about returning to work we often focus on the practical aspects – childcare, managing finances, flexible working, change of role – but forget about the emotional transition we need to go through which takes longer than the physical change itself.  The impact of the pandemic has meant that mums feel ‘cheated’ out of their maternity leave, as they have been unable to spend time with family and friends, socialise their baby with others and settle them into childcare.  This is before we add the anxiety of keeping themselves and their baby safe when they have spent the last 12-18 months focused on nurturing and protecting them from harm.  As organisations we need to have a greater understanding and appreciation of this often-hidden need.  How do you support people to work through their individual emotions on their transition to remain resilient?  How does this support address the different needs before, during and after their leave? And how well equipped are line managers in your organisation to have these conversations? 

Communicating effectively

As humans we need connection and to feel a sense of belonging.  Employees are often ‘forgotten’ about when out of the workplace and are not kept up to date with key business changes on both an operational and people level.  This can impact their desire to return and slow their transition back to work.  How can you ensure your people remain engaged with the workplace whilst experiencing this significant life transition in a way that is right for them? 

Building their self confidence

When we talk to new mums about their return to work, we regularly hear ‘I feel my brain has stopped working,’ ‘I worry I won’t remember what to do,’ and their confidence and self-belief has dropped.  This is often caused by a loss of their former identity.  Who are they now?  How is that different to how they were before and how do they want people to see them when they return to work? By supporting people to explore their new identity as a working parent, it can help them build their confidence, so they reintegrate into the workplace in a more productive way.  Moreover, by managing their mindset they can overcome their challenges quicker, so they perform effectively and continue to learn and develop their career.

People remember how employers treat them during this critical life changing time.  A lack of support can have a significant impact on an employer’s brand in the marketplace.  So, if you want to improve the way you support your people through their parental transition, find out how Connor can help here.



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