When new parents are out of the workplace for an extended period of time, this is often the first time they have experienced such a ‘break’ in their career. Having a baby is an exciting, heart-expanding but overwhelming experience which fundamentally transforms the life of the parent(s), challenging them mentally, emotionally and physically not just for the duration of their parental leave – but beyond.
For many new parents, their professional identity has been a key aspect of what makes them who they are, and when they have a baby, they discover a whole new identity. The mental demands of adjusting to parenthood and then working parenthood when they return to work can be difficult to navigate.
Parents can feel forgotten while on leave
In particular, women who are on maternity leave often feel disconnected and isolated, with some even feeling forgotten as soon as they have left the building. I am often reminded just how common it is for colleagues who are on parental leave to be ‘out of sight – out of mind’. Adjusting to the reality of being a mother and learning how to take care of a newborn baby is demanding and even lonely, and as the maternity leave goes on, the loss of the structure and intellectual stimulation that work offers can have an impact on their health and wellbeing.
The important role of line managers
This is where line managers can play a crucial role in ensuring their employees feel valued, appreciated and included whilst they are on parental leave. Investing time before the leave commences, to plan how your colleague would like to be included whilst they are away from the workplace is invaluable.
Taking care not to make any assumptions, be supportive and curious by asking questions to help you both determine how best to keep in touch and stay connected for the duration of their parental leave.
Top tips for line managers:
Let your colleague know that you are available at any time if they’d like to chat, but that it is equally ok not to want to be in touch. Remember that emails are sometimes less intrusive as your colleague can choose if/when they want to read it and if they wish to respond.
Encourage the use of KIT days
Encourage your colleague to take advantage of KIT (Keeping In Touch) days and SPLIT (Shared Parental Leave In Touch days) which are optional, but offer a great opportunity to re-connect with work and maintain that sense of a professional identity. These can be used for team meetings, away days, corporate briefings, events, conferences or even networking opportunities over lunch or coffee.
Make them feel remembered
Let your colleague know how much they are valued and appreciated by remembering them at key moments while they are away. A handwritten birthday card, an invitation to the work Christmas party or a celebration of a project they were involved in that has successfully completed will be meaningful and gratefully received.
Parenthood is a journey, not a destination and things can change and evolve over time. Many first-time parents don’t know what they don’t know when they go on parental leave. Be prepared to change or adapt your approach depending on what your colleague needs and don’t be afraid to check in periodically to let them know you are thinking of them, that they are missed and that you look forward to their return – when they are ready.
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. In our most recent video, we talk about loneliness in motherhood.
If your organisation would like to understand more about how to support line managers in managing their 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.