It’s a marathon, not a sprint: How to best support working parents

It’s always fascinating to us at TiLT that companies seem to be surprised when their employees announce they’re having a baby. There’s the obligatory, ‘congrats, that’s great,’ message followed by the freaking out, pissed off and annoyed conversations behind closed doors. Or the ever popular, ‘amazing, do you think you’ll come back after the baby is born?’ response. Which is one of our top 3 most damaging things to say to an expectant parent. An effective parental leave experience (for employees and managers) requires a systematic process, planning, exceptional communication, compliance triggers, pivot points, resources, support systems …we could go on. But sadly, most often we see companies struggle through this life event causing confusion, inconsistencies and potentially irreversible damage. Assuming that a parental leave policy in an employee handbook will suffice is one of the most damaging things a company can do. This marathon has key transition points, let’s explore: 

Trying to conceive 

If you become aware that your employee is trying to start or expand their family, be aware. Whether through surrogacy, IVF, adoption, pregnancy, donors, etc., it’s tough. If you’ve built a trusting relationship leading up to this point then continue to nurture that- ask open ended questions (“how are things going?”), parrot back (“you said you won’t know if the IVF took for 2 weeks, is that right?”), offer support (“what do you need during this time/ how can I help?). You don’t need to be an expert on all of the intricacies of the hormone shots she may be going through or the classes they need to take for adoption, but you do need to be present, listen and supportive. You have to understand that these experiences are all consuming and bring a truckload of emotions. 

Announced they’re expecting 

Now we’re off on the 2nd leg of the race. How you respond to the initial announcement sets the tone for the following 12 months. People’s nervous systems actually talk to one another so they will likely smell BS a mile away if your congratulations is disingenuous or shielding your real feelings of disappointment, fear, annoyance or dread. This is a good time to gut check where those feelings of yours are coming from and shine a light on your own internal bias. 

The preparation 

Without question, the longest, most arduous stretch of this race. There’s the backfill planning, the ripple effects (peer team impact from their leave), the on-leave and return to work plan, the breastfeeding accommodation verification, the FMLA, STD, PFL…..A,B,C compliance minefield to navigate. Without an internal process and subject matter experts, this leg of the journey is ripe with potential landmines. One misstep can erode years of employee loyalty and engagement. 

On-leave 

“We’ll see…” is a common phrase we use during this transition. Babies come into this world in a variety of ways and by their own rules. The companies we work with have to be prepared to handle the good, the bad and incredibly scary scenarios during this phase. If the delivery went well, then you’ve got a good chance that the plan you made will be solid. If there’s any deviation in delivery, you have to have a plan. We find that employers genuinely want to support their employees if something went sideways but supporting the right way is critical. 

Return

It’s the final push, you’ve now been in this race for nearly a year and you’ve bonked (to use marathon terms). Don’t let all of that preparation, training and grit be for not. Managers must be high touch, nimble, genuine, expert communicators and purposeful during this phase. Scheduling check-ins, asking how the adjustment is going, surrounding new mom and dad with support- whether that’s employee resource groups, mentors, coaches, a benefits program, etc. You have been in ‘business as usual’ the past few months, they have been in ‘upside down and backwards world’ the past few months. 

Your valued employee is going through one of the most exciting and challenging times in their life. Becoming a parent. How you support them through key transitions on this journey will keep your employee and their manager more focused, engaged at work and less stressed. Leading this race well will positively impact your new parents, their managers, HR team and all of the other employees who are watching how you handle this as an organization.

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