I was very surprised (but also secretly chuffed) to be asked for a meeting last week by a line manager who has a team of 30 that is high-performing.
A good number of those high-performing individuals have just had children and the line manager was concerned that a few of them were struggling.
I was impressed that the line manager wanted to go out of her way to support these individuals. I think secretly she was worried about her high performers leaving.
She asked me for a meeting to get some advice and because I was so impressed with her proactivity, I said yes even though I didn’t really have time.
Here are the key tips I shared with her:
- Don’t be afraid to try new things: phased return to work, term time only hours, a reinduction for returners or a promotion may be what your working parent needs.
- Show that you value their new skills: in my experience, being away for a few months makes you often more strategic, more focused on end results and less stuck in the detail. Maternity/adoption/shared parental leave is an asset.
- Workload is a key barrier and a big reason why people look for a new job following maternity, shared parental or adoption leave. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Working parents who return from parental leave often – but not always – feel guilty and try to work extra hard to prove themselves. Explain to them that you don’t expect them to work extra hard, you know they are good at their job and you pay them for their thinking if they are leaders, not for the hamster wheel routine. If they are going from full-time to part-time, make sure that the outcomes expected are reduced, too. You can help by making it clear which deliverables are essential, which are desirable, which ones need to be done to an excellent standard and where 60% is good enough. If necessary, get HR support with job design.
- Most kids will be ill a lot when they settle into childcare, plus for some – but not all – parents leaving their child behind at childcare is an almost physical experience of pain. Show your full support. Give them time off to collect them and tell them: ‘I completely understand, let me know what I can do to support you’. And make this especially clear to new dads. Too often I hear of new dads being treated like they never had a baby and the employer expecting the mum to pick it up every time the childminder rings.
- Basics: give them time for a reinduction to work, similar to when you would plan an induction with new starters, also consider if updating technical skills would be beneficial. An eye surgeon told me how she was expected to lead an operation after 12 months of maternity leave without any support or even shadowing someone. She felt left alone and is no longer with that employer.
- Catch difficulties before they emerge: schedule review catch-ups so you can see what/if any adjustments are needed. I have seen it work well to have a catch-up four weeks in and then two months in and then a review after six months.
- Don’t offer specific support without knowing what is needed: from my experience, working parents who are worried about proving themselves rarely are open with you about how much they are struggling (if there are, there are of course mums and dads that don’t struggle returning from parental leave).
- Ask lots of open questions and listen to what they really need. For example, one of the working parents on our Fellowship was told by their manager not to attend an international conference because of her young baby. It was well meant but had the opposite effect. Don’t be afraid to ask what they need. If you or they are worried about tying yourself down, just ask “What is your freshest thinking on…, I know it might evolve.”
- Trial any flexible working arrangement that they suggest for 3 months – after that, you will know if it works. They have a strong interest in making it work so don’t worry too much about a new arrangement failing. If you don’t have the skills to make it work in-house e.g. for job shares, you could always buy in a consultancy such as Lydeca Jobsharing to get some coaching.
- Keep talking to them about career progression. Even if you think they are not interested anymore, if you don’t talk to them about long-term plans they will assume you don’t believe in their potential.
- Use it as an opportunity to expose them to your senior leaders. To help with their reinduction, schedule a catchup between them and the CEO or Senior Director, this will A) help them feel valued and B) get the CEO to understand the needs of working parents.
- Don’t forget the small logistical details – it may be helpful to work through the return to work checklist. It is surprising to me how often simple things get missed off the list such as a room to express milk (if applicable) without glass windows.
I hope this helps, I could write a much longer post but if you get the above right, you have done brilliantly!
I can’t write these tips without a plug for the award-winning Leaders Plus Fellowship of course. The programme has brilliant outcomes for the engagement, retention and well-being of working parents as well as career development and it will connect them with supportive and encouraging peers.
It is likely to make them feel brave which means they will talk to you about what they need, rather than just looking for a new job which often seems like the easy thing to do.