How businesses can help parents returning to work

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Article provided by Deborah Thomas, Director, Audeliss Executive Search

Making the decision to return to work after a period of leave can be particularly difficult, often raising concerns for employees seeking to balance the demands of a working schedule with other parts of their lives.

For business leaders – especially those operating in fast-paced, forward-thinking workspaces – it is important to understand that each employee has different reasons for shifting the pathway of their career. Businesses that are adaptable, accessible and offer flexible styles of working can lead the charge in challenging the way we support people returning to work and as a result increase the chances of keeping and attracting talent.

One predominant reason for returning to work after absence is starting or adding to a family. Regardless of whether this is a first child or not, offering the right support to parents is crucial in sending a clear message across the organisation that it is absolutely possible to have a good job and a family.

In research conducted by MMB Magazine, under a fifth of women returning from maternity leave felt happy and confident about re-entering the workplace. Shockingly too, only 17 per cent felt they received good communication and support through the maternity process. Improving visibility and transparency of these pressures and worries that families face when returning to work is important. We need to take steps within businesses to move away from any idea that employees end up becoming punished within their careers for becoming parents. Discrimination may not be intentional, but if information, opportunities, and responsibility is not fairly shared with those returning to work, then they are not on a level playing field with their coworkers.

This conversation is wider than just being about women too. Men can face significant concerns and pressures when it comes to returning to work after paternity leave and having a new member of the family to think about. In fact, research has shown that almost 50 per cent of dads who have accepted their allocated parental leave have been discriminated against in the workplace. Business leaders can ensure that there are gender-neutral family leave policies available company-wide to facilitate a comfortable transition away from and back into the workplace for all.

Businesses should also be leading by example in offering flexible working options which accommodate parents as much as possible. This is arguably the most influential and prominent way to encourage new parents back to work. It can also be hugely beneficial to other employees such as those with other caring responsibilities or health concerns. It is important to make the workplace accessible for all and this includes facilitating flexible hours, part-time work or allowing remote working to help parents manage their work-life balance, whilst excelling within their role. Significantly too, with 59 per cent of mums saying that flexible working is the one thing that would most help them to progress their careers, this is integral to supporting their re-entry into the workplace, as well as further role progression further down the line.

Further to this, employers should also consider creating a ‘re-onboarding’ programme to help ease parents back into work. This can include setting up one-to-one mentoring sessions, or peer-to-peer conversations, ensuring positive communication and that all needs are being met effectively.

We can support parents back into senior leadership roles by removing the unconscious bias that exists when we consider welcoming employees back into the workplace after an extended period of time. Just because they have taken a break from working, it does not mean they are any less qualified or capable of working to a senior level. That said, confidence can sometimes take a while to regain for some so providing the option of intensive training and upskilling programmes can really improve the process and show investment into your return-to-workers.

It is more important now than ever for businesses to lead by example when welcoming men and women back into the workplace after time away raising children. This should be part of a business’s core ethos and form part of a wider initiative to encourage inclusion and support networks, as well as for building a positive company culture.

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