5 Ways to Do Parental Leave Right

Think holistically when crafting the particulars for this crucial benefit.

Written by Anessa Fike
Published on Mar. 06, 2023
5 Ways to Do Parental Leave Right
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Parental leave is something that few people take every year so companies tend not to prioritize how to do it right. 

5 Tips for an Effective Parental Leave Plan

1. Create a parental-leave template that can be customized for each parent.

2. Remember that fostering and adoption are also ways to create a family.

3. Hire flexible, temporary resources to handle the parent’s workload when they are on leave.

4. Communicate with parents while they are on leave.

5. Expect that parenthood may change an employee’s career goals and ambitions.

A company that views parental leave as an opportunity rather than a liability can bring the best talent and even future investors to its doors. 

Children arrive in all sorts of ways — biologically and by fostering or adoption. They and their parents will need every ounce of support that you can give them. There are many ways to make and have a family, and the most inclusive companies will win out. Here are five ways companies can do parental leave right.

Read More About Parents in the WorkplaceTrying to Diversify Your Engineering Team? Start by Supporting Moms.


Start Before the Child Arrives

Parental leave support should start way before the baby or child arrives. And the preparation should not just sit with the parent. Preparation responsibilities belong to the company, too. 

Support starts when the employee lets the company know that they are expecting a new member of the family, and in companies where employers and employees have trust and psychological safety, employees letting people know earlier can help both sides plan better. 

Company people teams can support new parents with templated transition plans instead of having new parents start from scratch. 

Companies typically require employees themselves to figure out their own transition plans without any guidance or support, which makes the employee feel like the company doesn’t care about their well-being, and most transition plans are put in place too late to really make a huge difference. 

Parental leave should be planned like a small-scale roadmap strategy based on who is involved, what is going to happen and when things will drop into place. Company people teams can support new parents with templated transition plans instead of having new parents start from scratch. 

Partnering with employees going out on leave, and even with companies like Parentaly, shows employees that they aren’t alone in this part of their lives, that the company supports them and that their teams will be taken care of while they are out. 


Be Fair About Workloads

Don’t expect the team to make up the work while the person is out on leave. With many companies trying to remain lean, most teams are under-resourced to begin with, so when someone leaves, the team takes on the burden of the extra work. 

That’s too much for an already at-capacity team to bear, and by placing the extra work on the team, resentment for the person on leave builds. The company should be open to hiring flexible and temporary resources to fill the gap. 

For example, if a chief people officer goes out on leave, the company should be ready with an interim or fractional CPO to step in several weeks before the executive goes out on leave and stay through when the executive is back and has time to reacclimate. 

The team will not resent the on-leave parent, the work will be completed by a professional accustomed to coming in and getting up to speed quickly and the team members won’t want to quit the second the person on leave returns. 

Without flexible resourcing help, the team burns out more quickly and will want to leave, resulting in the company spending more money on backfilling the role, and the possibility of multiple team members quitting at once. 

Companies should assemble a list of partners ahead of time, as in sooner rather than later, to reach out to when people go out on parental leave, including fractional or interim leadership consulting firms, freelancers, industry agencies that focus on temporary or contract employees or other firms that can come in to run processes while team members are out. 

Creating a positive and well-resourced team with a flexible resource while a team member is away on parental leave results in a healthy and fair environment for remaining team members. Not doing so will result in an overworked, upset and ready-to-resign team. 

Having a flexible resourcing and outsourcing plan can make or break a team during parental leave at any career level, and even make or break the team after someone returns. 


Plan Their Return to Work Together

You don’t want new parents to do any work while they’re on leave. Yet companies are allowed to, and should, reach out to new parents when they are on leave. 

Before parents go out on leave, set expectations together to connect a few weeks to a month before they are set to return to work. Ask them if it’s okay to reach out via phone or email around that time, and what the best way to communicate with them will be. 

When you connect with the new parent, listen to what they’d like to see their return to work to look like. Many new parents may not want to jump back to full time work. And that’s okay. Allowing new parents to customize work for a few months will most likely give you an amazingly loyal employee for years.

Allowing new parents to customize work for a few months will most likely give you an amazingly loyal employee for years.

If a new parent would like to work three days a week for the first four weeks back, or wants to try out working mornings but taking off the afternoons, let them do that. What works for one family may not work for another, and allowing employees the autonomy and flexibility in their schedules after such a significant shift in their lives may be one of the greatest gifts any company can give them. The way you treat people matters, especially during one of life’s most significant changes. 

Sending new parents meals or gift cards for online meal-delivery services never hurts, either. Make sure you know the new parents’ dietary restrictions and that they will be home to receive meals. This makes the open line of communication described above absolutely key. 


Check In After New Parents Return

Do a career check-in a few months after the new parent returns to work full time, when they are in a brain space to be able to think about their career. 

When you are a new parent, your perspective may change. An ambitious employee may decide after becoming a parent that they may not want to be vice president anymore and instead want to have more time to spend with their new child. An employee who never wanted to be a manager may have a new outlook and now be eager to develop the next generation. 

The lesson: Don’t assume that what employees wanted before going out on parental leave is the same thing that they want for their career after parental leave, and don’t assume that they don’t. Ask and listen.

Read More About Parental Leave6 Ways to Support New Parents at Work


Be Careful With Layoffs

If you must do layoffs while employees are on parental leave, and that should be a last resort, honor your commitment to them. Make sure that any severance they have covers at least the amount of leave that they were promised and that their health benefits are covered throughout that same time. You should also make sure that health benefits cover the new child for at least one year from birth, adoption or foster date. 

Doing parental leave right as a company means doing all of the above, not just picking and choosing what works best for you. Support and understanding are the two most important things to new parents when it comes to what their companies can provide for them.

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