September 22, 2017

Parental Leave: Best Practices for a Seamless Return to Work

Deb LaMere

Deb LaMere is the Vice President of Employee Experience at Ceridian. With 17 years’ experience in human resources, Deb is responsible for employee engagement, talent management and performance management for Ceridian.

Parental leave is a hot topic in both the U.S. and Canada. One of the questions I am often asked that really resonates with me is, “How do you accommodate parents who choose to take long parental leaves?” We believe that employees should be able to spend time with their families while feeling confident that their jobs will be there when they return to work. So how does a company prepare for an employee who is coming back from a long parental leave, or any kind of leave, in a way that ensures the returning employee is set up for success?

Let me first clarify what I mean by “long parental leave.” We’re talking about anything from six months to two years. Many countries where Ceridian has a presence have long parental leaves when compared to those of the United States. Canada offers 12 months of combined maternity and parental leaves while the UK has a 52- week shared parental leave option (minus any weeks of maternity or adoption leave).

After a longer leave, employees can feel out of touch or overwhelmed when it’s time to return to work. They need to familiarize themselves with new projects and new learnings, and understand the minutiae of what’s been happening at the company during their time away. Recognizing that, here are some best practices to set your employees up for success.

Define a transition plan

Part of a successful leave is the transition. When a leave date is confirmed, managers and employees should work together to ensure the employee’s projects and responsibilities are either wrapped up or can be moved to other team members. That way, they can leave without worrying about deadlines and the rest of the team isn’t left in the lurch.

Respect the leave period

This may seem obvious, but don’t bug employees while they’re on leave. It’s key to ensuring a comfortable leave for parents. They can relax with their child, knowing that they don’t have to worry about work contacting them. If they choose to keep in touch with work, they’re able to do so as their choice.

Prepare for the return

In preparing for an employee returning to work, a manager needs to think through what their employee needs to know. An onboarding module, which we use for new employees at Ceridian, for example, can be used to re-integrate a returning employee. In fact, we encourage managers to think of them as new employees: do they have access to the system and do they have the tools they need to be successful in their job? Are they aware of company news and changes, new leadership or new team members? Can they access resources? We often pair a new employee with a buddy, and this is something we’re thinking about for returning employees.

Consider flexible options

We believe in workforce flexibility, and work with our employees to support them in this way when possible. The returning employee and manager should discuss flexible opportunities – if they are available – ahead of the employee’s return. Communication here is key for a number of reasons; perhaps the most important is to set clear expectations for both the employee and manager. Make a plan to regularly assess the arrangement, too, as part of the employee’s transition back to work.

Coming back from parental leave, or any type of leave, can be stressful and emotional. An expansive transition plan and clear communication are key to success for both the employee and organization.

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