Supporting working parents through their parental transition and beyond

Following a recent client conversation, it highlighted to me the diverse ways to become a parent today.  I have noticed that while it is necessary for organisations to have policies available for all parents, often the focus and training for line managers is on the needs of parents starting a family in the ‘traditional way’ (mother becomes pregnant through natural conception with a male partner) and predominantly at the point the mother has already become pregnant. Those with other needs are forgotten about or “referred to HR.”

The different needs of those who are, either having or choosing to become a parent by another way is equally important. Examples include:

  • Fertility treatment
  • Adopting or fostering
  • Becoming a parent via a surrogate
  • Those in a same sex partnership or
  • Those who become stepparents with parental responsibility

Supporting parents in either starting their family or growing an existing family has never been so complex, nor so critical, bearing in mind the data on the size of the working population who either have, or want to have a family in the future.

According to ONS data, in 2019 there were around eight million families with dependent children in the UK, with 6.2 million couple families with dependent children (that is married or cohabiting families). Around 7 in 10 (73.2%) of these couple families had both parents in employment.  Therefore, this group make up a significant part of our workforce and organisations need to ensure that they are meeting their needs as they start their transition to becoming a parent, throughout their dependant years and beyond.  But bearing in mind the diverse needs of this group – what are the critical stages organisations need to consider when supporting parents?

Key transition points

There are 4 key stages of the initial transition that organisations need to consider when their people are becoming a parent:

Preparing to become a parent

This is where there are real challenges for many organisations as policies and procedures often only cover basic statutory obligations, when at the same time the same organisation may enhance a maternity or paternity policy.  This therefore means they may not be fully catering for the needs of parents who are fostering, adopting or who may be becoming a parent via a surrogate where they may need to take time off for ante natal appointments, or other agency meetings relating to the child’s placement.  This is also true for those parents who are having fertility treatment. Because these means of becoming a parent can be very uncertain, it is important that employees feel their organisation and in particular, their manager supports them with what can be a long and difficult journey.  As always, this means having clear policies to work within and a trusted relationship between manager and employee with open, clear communication. 

Preparing to leave the workplace before the baby arrives

This can be more complex for those who are becoming a parent through adoption or fostering, as it is often uncertain regarding a child’s placement which means it can be difficult to plan.  For those who are carrying the child themselves there are lots of health considerations and a need to ensure continual risk assessment, particularly for those who have experienced pregnancy during the Covid pandemic.  But for all groups – a need to be proactive and create a structured plan for their transition to parental leave is important for continuity for the organisation.  Within this, there is a need for the person leaving the workplace to take some time to think about the psychological realignment of becoming a parent and what that means for them as an individual, so they are prepared for what is to come. 

Preparing to return after a time away from work

This can be as early as when the baby is 3-4 months old when the novelty of new parenthood can start to dwindle and a craving for normality and the life they once know can set in.  At this point there is often a lot of apprehension and uncertainty about how life will be when they return to work and how they can balance their different stakeholders at home and at work.  What is important here is to re-connect, to consider what has changed whilst they have been away from their workplace and make sure they have a good support network in place.     

Settling back into work during the first 3 months

Often the organisation and the people within it expect the same person to return to work, but there is often a significant shift in their identity, what is important to them and their needs since being away from work.  This is often where there is a mismatch of expectations and understanding and a will on both sides to be back up and operating at 100% from day 1.  A lot can change during a period of parental leave, the last year has told us that!  So, for organisations and managers supporting someone back to work after parental leave, they must consider this and put a support plan in place, with regular reviews. 

Whether people are becoming a parent for the first time or navigating their way through being a working parent during the pandemic, there is one key driver that organisations need to be aware of that has become even more important for their people: 

Increased flexibility and choice

One of the key outcomes I hear when discussing the legacy of the pandemic, is that people have re-evaluated what is important to them in terms of their work and home life balance – in particular, with regards to flexible working.  The result of this is a workforce with significantly different expectations and requirements to that of pre-pandemic working life.  The parents (or those with caring responsibilities) will be rejoicing as the rest of the workforce has finally caught up and joined the push for increased flexibility and choice over where and how they work. 

According to ONS, in 2019 the employment rate of mothers (75.1%) was greater than men without dependent children (73.5%) so again, this shows the significance of this audience in our workforce. 

In addition, almost 3 in 10 working mothers said they had reduced their hours to help with childcare, compared with 1 in 20 fathers.  Therefore, organisations need to support them in being able to work flexibly so they can retain vital skills and experience.

At all of these key stages, it is important that people feel supported to work through their individual challenges so they can remain resilient during their transition and continue to contribute positively to the organisation.  This can be done by one to one parental transition coaching, where they have the space to explore their individual challenges.  On an organisational level, supporting managers is important to enable them to have better quality conversations with their people throughout their transition and beyond.

How can we help?

If you want to find out how to support your parents through their transition, then contact us on 01491 414010 or complete the form below for a call back.

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