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Simple steps create a positive parental-leave experience

The parental-leave process can be fraught with confusion and misunderstandings, but according to return-to-work expert Emma Walsh, employers can take simple, inexpensive steps to make the transitions easier for everyone.

Walsh’s first tip is to make sure policies and procedures relating to parental leave are clearly articulated and understood by staff in advance. 

“Sometimes organisations have loose policies and processes around what needs to happen during parental leave. [Then] someone falls pregnant and the person and their manager go, ‘Oh, what do we do?’ and they have to scout around and try to get information.”

Walsh, the founder and director of Mums at Work, recommends devising a simple toolkit that outlines key information for managers and employees. It could also offer information about anything from childcare through to flexible return-to-work options that might interest employees.  

Don’t make assumptions


In the lead-up to the leave period, managers should ask employees about their initial thoughts on returning to work, Walsh says.

A manager in this situation should be mindful of anti-discrimination legislation, and should avoid making assumptions about what leaving work to have a child might say about the employee’s career motivations.

“It’s really easy to apply your own values to that situation,” Walsh says.

“The manager might say, ‘Oh right, you’re having a baby now, great! I guess that’s going to be your priority and focus.’ And maybe they don’t say it, but sometimes they think it, and I think that’s the key thing: not to assume as a manager that you know what your employee is thinking and feeling about their career now that they’re going on parental leave. You should ask.

“Sometimes managers feel uncomfortable about asking because they don’t want to appear to cross the line or be pressuring someone into making a decision about what their goals and ambitions are, but often – and I talk to a lot of parents who are going on leave – it’s a really great time to do a bit of an audit and a review on your job and your career and where you’ve got to thus far.”

For example, an employee embarking on leave might think, “I’ve been in this job for the last five years; I’ve enjoyed it, but maybe when I come back I’d like to be doing something a little different”, she says.

“Everyone’s going to have a different situation depending on where they’re at in their career and how much they’re enjoying their current job.”

‘posted by mums@work’: .