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7 Ways HR Can Help New Parents Return to Work

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil on November 11, 2014 10:23 AM

When Jennifer Barbin thought about returning to work after her maternity leave, she wondered how she would manage to do it all. “My HR department was progressive and said, ‘What if you take the first eight weeks and then spread the rest of it out?’” says this mom of three who is co-founder of and author of Guilt Be Gone! “It wasn’t so stressful.”

Barbin was even happier returning to a company that was so understanding. 

When new moms or dads return after the birth of a baby, HR can ease the transition and allow new parent employees to be more present when they are at work.

Cultivating a company culture that's attentive to new parents, and working families in general, isn’t just politically correct -- it's also good business practice.

  1. Have an Open Outlook
    As Barbin showed, not everyone wants the same thing. “HR needs to stop treating everyone as equal,” says Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting and author of Talent Magnetism. “Employees need to be looked at as individuals. It is helpful to create an environment where it is okay to step out and to step back in.”

  2. Be Flexible
    “Flexibility is critical,” says Ken Pinnock, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s ethics and corporate social responsibility and sustainability special expertise panel. “Flexibility is a key driver when people are selecting and staying with an organization.” Being open to flex work rangements, like alternative work weeks or part-time work, can go a long way in making sure an employee is happy and productive.

    Learn about Managing a Remote Workforce

  3. Build a Transition Team
    “HR can work with the managers to prepare for parents' returns, so they doesn’t come back to an environment that is backlogged,” says Angel Perez, of the South Florida affiliate of the National Human Resources Association. “It’s important to have a supportive environment so they can transition to their priorities.” For the first few weeks, alert other team members that the transition is just that -- an adjustment time for working the kinks out of merging family and work-life again.

    Find out Why New Moms Are Still Quitting Their Jobs 

  4. Assist Wherever You Can
    Taking care of employees when they're welcoming a new baby has a great impact on employee satisfaction. Making community resources available to employees gives options and choices that can help make the work-life balance more harmonious. 

    “We have to ask what we can do to make it possible to help new parents,” shares Matuson. “If you don’t give it to them, someone else will.”

    Do you offer family-friendly benefits, like help finding child care or backup child care? Find out how you can.

  5. Allow Time for Pumping 
    Some new moms face one distinct challenge: nursing issues. If a new mom returns to work and is still nursing, she needs time and privacy to pump. If you don’t have a designated room, make it clear that she can take a certain amount of time (even if it needs to be made up somewhere else) to take care of business.

  6. Ask What They Need
    Coming back from a leave can be a tricky process. Managers don’t want to be seen as prying and employees might be sensitive to being judged or wondering if their leave will hurt their career. “Ask, ‘How are you doing? Can we do anything to help you when you are coming back?’” says Pinnock. It's important that the employer send the message that they are considerate of the employee’s well-being.

    Read about Why New Dads Don't Take Paternity Leave 

  7. Focus on the Work, Not the Hours
    “It is not about reducing hours,” says Matuson. “It’s about carving out pieces of their jobs that contribute high value.” So if an employee can occasionally work from home or be expected to maintain her client base, but not add to it upon her return, that’s helpful.

    “If HR can work with you and help you realize you can do it and it will be okay, they will also be able to keep you as an employee,” says Barbin.


Supporting new parents at work