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A guide to facilitating a conversation with a colleague as they return to work

Welcoming back a team member after maternity, shared parental or paternity leave is a pivotal moment, with the potential for uncertainty. As a line manager, your role in facilitating a smooth transition back into the workplace is crucial, not only for the returning employee but for the entire team dynamic. Here’s our guide to support you in having meaningful conversations and ensuring a seamless reintegration:

Preparation Is Key

Before the return, familiarise yourself with company policies regarding maternity/family leave and any specific accommodations or changes that might have been arranged. This knowledge will help you approach the conversation equipped with information about available resources and support systems.

Initiate the Conversation

Schedule a meeting prior to their return to discuss expectations, workload distribution, and any updates or changes within the team. This initial conversation sets the tone for a supportive and collaborative return.

Create a Supportive Environment

Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. Acknowledge the transition period and the challenges it might entail. Show genuine interest in their well-being and any adjustments they may need.

Flexibility and Accommodation

Recognise the need for flexibility in the initial phase of their return. Offer flexible work hours or the possibility of a phased return to help ease the transition back into full-time work.

Discuss Work Arrangements

Address any changes in roles, responsibilities, or projects that may have occurred during their absence. Be open to discussing adjustments to their workload to ensure a manageable and sustainable return.

Encourage Open Communication

Create an environment where the returning employee feels comfortable discussing concerns or challenges they might face upon their return. Encourage regular check-ins to address any evolving needs or adjustments required.

Offer Support and Resources

Inform them of available resources, such as employee assistance programs, coaching support and peer-to-peer networks if applicable. Assure them that the company supports their well-being as they transition back to work.

Foster Inclusivity within the Team and the Wider Business

Facilitate reintroductions within the team and key stakeholders to help the returning employee reconnect with colleagues. Encourage team members to be supportive and understanding during this transition phase.

Continuous Feedback

Regularly seek feedback on how the transition is progressing and whether there are any further adjustments needed. This demonstrates your commitment to their success and well-being within the team.

Returning to work after maternity/family leave can be a significant adjustment for any employee. As a line manager, your support and understanding play a pivotal role in fostering a positive and inclusive workplace environment. By approaching these conversations with empathy, flexibility, and a proactive mindset, you contribute to a smoother transition and the overall well-being of your team.

Remember, each individual’s experience and needs may vary, so adaptability and a personalised approach will go a long way in facilitating a successful return to work.

This phase is an opportunity to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to supporting its employees through major life events, ultimately fostering a more engaged and motivated workforce.

If you’d like more information about our maternity return coaching programmes, please get in touch.

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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