Employees who return to work after the birth a child need unique support—even more so if they choose to continue feeding their child breast milk. Many women say their direct manager had one of the biggest impacts on whether their return-to-work transition was smooth or difficult. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of properly training those who manage other individuals on your policies that impact working parents. When all managers are trained, every returning parent across the organization can count on having a predictable and positive transition experience.
HR professionals should train all managers and supervisors on how to speak to the following key areas, to help them better support new parents upon their return to work.
Train Your Managers in the Following Key Areas
Flexible Work Arrangement Policies
It is important for managers and supervisors to speak to their employees about the best approach and timing for transitioning back to former workload levels and responsibilities. All staff in a supervisory role should be familiar with available flexible work policies, including schedule adjustments and/or remote work options. Some employees may prefer to come back part-time (if that is available) for a time, and others may wish to jump right back in full-time. Managers need to understand all options so they can help employees navigate the return process.
Companies should also train managers on long-term flexible scheduling benefits to help new parents manage child care and other responsibilities at home. In a recent SHRM survey, 91% of human resource professionals agreed that flexible work arrangements positively influence employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention1 so finding ways to make this possible for your workforce is a worthy goal.
Managing Workload Responsibilities
Managers should be trained to help support employees with workload responsibilities and be prepared to discuss how an employee can successfully re-engage while balancing work and parental demands. Some employees may be ready to ramp up their workload quickly, while others will need a more gradual transition period in order to get back up to full speed.
It is important for managers or supervisors to understand that each employee’s experience will be different, and that making assumptions about someone’s readiness to assume their previous workload upon return can backfire. Instead of trying to guess, it is best if a manager can ask questions and give the employee an opportunity to express their own goals before finalizing the transition plan.
Lactation Support Policies and Benefits
For some managers, new parents will return to work and need support for pumping breast milk during the workday. Make sure managers and supervisors understand employee rights according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which requires reasonable break time and a private lactation space for non-exempt (hourly) employees. Additionally, encourage familiarity with any applicable state or local laws with which the company complies. Managers should be prepared to direct their employee to where the designated onsite lactation space is – and may even want to offer a tour of the space.
Employers should make sure managers have an understanding of the company’s Lactation Accommodation Policy so they can share it with the returning employee. If your organization does not have a policy yet, here’s a blog article to help you get started in creating one!
If your company has additional lactation support benefits, such as access to Lactation Consultants, breast milk shipping for travel, or onsite lactation supplies and equipment, be sure to inform managers about these benefits.
Other Parental Support and Resources
Be sure managers understand any other policy and benefit options available to new parents. This may include onsite child care, back-up childcare, pediatric telehealth services, leave of absence policies, sick leave use for ill children, or other topics that may be relevant. Additionally, support for new parents such as return-to-work coaching, employee resource groups, or mentorship opportunities with other working parents are important recommendations your managers can offer their employees.
The Importance of Supportive Communication
Managers should be trained to have open conversations about the needs of new parents. It is understandable that these conversations don’t always feel natural, but it is critical that there is a clear understanding between employees and their manager or supervisor from the beginning, with occasional check-ins to ensure the returning parent is getting the support they need.
To help you train your managers and supervisors to have productive conversations that will show your new parents they are returning to work in a family-friendly environment, we have written a Guide to Preparing for Employee’s Return After Baby outlining topics they should be prepared to address with their returning employee. It can be used as a template, and may need to be adapted to suite your unique set of benefits and policies, but we believe it is a great start to ensuring your managers can communicate support for new parents in the organization.
SHRM, Leveraging Workplace Flexibility for Engagement and Productivity, 2014