A surprising number of line managers are a little daunted by the prospect of having a conversation with an employee who’s announced they are having a child. Even those with children of their own. It can seem like a bit of a minefield, but it doesn’t have to be. There are some simple steps you can take to help equip them and ensure the experience is a positive one all round – for the employee, the line manager and your companies retention rates.
1. Keep them informed on policies
lAn employee sharing the news they’re becoming a parent can often be better informed than their line manager. They’ve had time to think about it before announcing the news. A line manager doesn’t need to be an expert to handle this well. They just need to know the headlines and where to go to find out more. The key things here are:
- Understanding the key policies – what the maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave policies are, both the legal entitlements and any company specific benefits such as enhanced pay
- Being aware of any other benefits – such as a childcare voucher scheme, the option to add a child to your health insurance or a parent network and any key support it offers (such as workshops to help manage the transition)z
2. Provide guidance for the first meeting
The first meeting is key in setting the tone. The employee is likely to be feeling a little daunted so a Line Manager who can confidently guide them through will be hugely appreciated. It’s also likely to make all subsequent conversations a lot easier. At this stage the key things to understand are:
- Process – what the formal process is for requesting leave – i.e. what forms and when
- Ante-natal appointments – what the company policy is for ante-natal appointments and how time off will be managed
- Benefits – what the key benefits are and where to go if they have any questions – which at this stage typically focus on pay, what happens to pensions and share save schemes whilst on leave and how and when to sign up for voucher schemes, parent networks etc.
I also always recommend landing the message that the employee can be open, discuss any concerns and ideally plan together how and when they communicate their news to the rest of the team.
3. Make them aware of any support offered during pregnancy
Many firms already have policies or benefits in place and simple things can go a long way in making employees feel their employer is looking out for them. These will be company specific but may include:
- Workstation assessment – which will obviously will vary widely depending on the role and need to be managed sensitively
- Pregnancy Parking – an increasing number of organisations with on site parking are now offering accessible parking spaces at the later stages of pregnancy
- Pregnancy yoga/massage – again many larger firms with on site gyms are now offering pregnancy yoga classes or have massage services
4. Ensure they support the employee as they prepare to go on leave
There will be a natural tendency to focus on what tasks need to be completed before an employee goes on extended leave – for both the employee and the line manager. It’s worth making sure they are also thinking about:
- Handover planning – creating a handover plan together which includes informing key stakeholders and ensuring any interim cover has all they need
- Final date – agreeing how this will be communicated to the rest of the team
- Checking in regularly – to see how the employee is feeling, particularly in the later months and if appropriate adjusting their leaving plan. Some pregnant mums for example find it helpful to use annual leave to make those final weeks shorter and “ramp down” or change their hours to avoid rush hour.
5. Encourage them to think ahead to the employees absence and return – BEFORE they go on leave
It’s tempting to just focus on the handover and cover needed however I think of this as a golden time in having open and honest conversations about absence and return. It’s much harder to do this once an employee is on leave, has a small baby to occupy them and is potentially feeling a little isolated. Encourage your line managers to use their judgment and sound out employees on the following:
- Contact during leave – do they want to remain in contact during leave, and if so how? Do they want to know about major developments in the workplace or be involved in team socials?
- Return date – whilst legally there is no requirement for the employee to notify their employee until 8 weeks before they want to come back I always encourage line managers to be ready and open to discussing it if the employee brings it up – it’s helpful on both sides.
- Flexible working – the same goes for flexible working and by this I don’t just mean part-time. With very few exceptions parents need some flexibility, even if informal.
- KIT days – employers and employees have the option to agree to up to 10 “Keeping in Touch” days for maternity and adoption leave, and 20 for Shared Parental Leave. They can be a really effective way of ramping back up (and trialling childcare), and making sure the employee doesn’t miss out on key events like team off sites.
- Annual leave – those on Maternity, Adoption and Shared Parental Leave accrue annual leave. Are both the employee and line manager happy with them returning with up to a year’s extra holiday to use or is it better to tag some or all onto their leave?
6. Ensure they are ready for their return
It’s easy to assume you don’t need to do anything for a returning employee, they’re not new, but for most returning parents it’s a big event so to ensure it runs smoothly it’s worth encouraging line managers to:
- Review changes – consider anything that could be disruptive or unsettling such as an office move, new team members or structure, or new team objectives
- Check practicalities – is the technology and workstation equipment set up and ready? Will their emails, mobile phone and access rights have been reconnected?
- Plan their first day / week back – consider arranging a 121 on their first day back to talk through their re-integration and any concerns they have, introducing them to new team members and scheduling catch ups with key stakeholders
This all sounds great but how do you get these messages across?
Leaders in the field now provide dedicated workshops for line managers. If you have the scale to support a programme like this I highly recommend it. Not only for the line managers themselves – and the benefit they get from being able to discuss concerns and questions openly with others in the same boat – but also because of the impact this has on employees seeing this has been made a priority.
However not everyone has the scale to do this and even if they do I always recommend creating a simple “at-a-glance” written guide as well. Given the time sensitivity – they may not have to deal with this for years and then suddenly need the information very quickly – it can be hugely reassuring to have to hand.
Employees will nearly always mention their line manager when being asked about their experiences of going on extended leave when becoming a parent. And the responses tend to be along the lines of either “I was lucky, they got it…” or “They didn’t have a clue..”. By creating some simple pointers you can create a lot more consistency across your organisation and really make a difference all round.
About the author: Catherine Oliver is the founder of Parents@Sky and co-founder of Sky’s Women in Leadership initiative. She has recently founded the Bluebell Partnership, a consultancy to help guide businesses through the challenges of setting up their own working parent and women in leadership programmes.