This is a guest collaboration series with our friend Stephanie Pow from Crayon - she's building the first home for money and parenthood in New Zealand, helping parents navigate the unique financial puzzles they face so they can be the parents they want to be.
It can be jarring to go from looking after a baby around the clock to juggling the dual role of employee and parent. Many working parents have shared with us that their return-to-work experience was make-or-break for them. Here are our suggestions for how you can make the transition a little easier.
Schedule regular check-ins with your employee to see how things are going for them as they return to work. They’ll appreciate you taking the time to proactively check to see how they are - it goes a long way towards showing that you have their best interests at heart (and it costs you nothing!)
Help them ease back into work - life can be a bit tough returning to full or part time work after months at home with a new baby! Perhaps they could start back on a Thursday or Friday so they can have a short week instead of starting on a Monday and needing to get through a full week straight away. Maybe they could just work short days for the first week (and you could even offer them full pay for those days - if you can manage it).
Depending on your industry, your employee might have a lot of email, company announcements, or general messages to catch up on. Allow them plenty of time to get up to speed and manage your own expectations of their output to begin with.
Crayon also has a guide for managers wanting to provide employees with a smoother transition back to work.
Some companies offer a large bonus or payment to incentivise employees to return. This isn’t achievable for all companies, but another alternative is to offer a return to work scheme where employees can be on reduced hours but paid for their full hours for a period of time. For instance, allow returning employees to work 35 hours per week but pay them for 40 hours for the first few months.
If your company can manage it, top up the annual leave rate for an employee who needs to take annual leave in the period after parental leave while their rate is being reduced (see Part 2 for an explanation of how the legislation works).
Childcare is typically the biggest expense working parents face and New Zealand is the fourth most expensive country in the world for childcare. Increasingly, employers are helping working parents defray these costs by providing daycare services on site or daycare subsidies, or offering employees the ability to work flexibly around daycare schedules. What’s possible for you to offer will depend on your organisation’s circumstances.
If your employee needs to breastfeed or express milk at work, you should be providing facilities (as we covered in Part 2). Going above and beyond to create a great experience here doesn’t need to be expensive, but some nice extra touches will really show the employee that you care about them. Magazines or books, a side table for a hot drink, a basket for snacks, box of tissues, a portable speaker to listen to podcasts or music, a footstool: there’s so many ways you could contribute to making this a nice comfortable space for your employee without breaking the bank.
Just because the employee has returned to work doesn’t mean everything has returned to normal. There will continue to be an adjustment period, and new milestones might be passed (daycare, health issues, changes to sleep habits… you name it!) which will continue to bring a lot of highs and lows to your employee.
We hope this series has prompted you to consider how well your existing policies and processes support employees going on or returning from parental leave. While additional paid leave (deservedly) gets a lot of attention, there are many ways employers can help employees on this journey. And it’s in your interest as much as it is in theirs - a more motivated, less stressed employee will most likely perform better and deliver stronger results.