This is a guest post from Kate Keaney, CEO at Connor, as part of our Recruiting Weekly Series. Kate shares her thoughts on becoming a working parent during the pandemic.
So many of us have faced some kind of change to our lives between the beginning of 2020 and today, both personally and at work. And, in many ways, these areas of our lives have become more inter-mingled than before.
Career-wise, many of us have had changes thrust upon us, whether that is a change in the scope of our role, working from a different location (many from home), salary impact, being put on furlough or, sadly, being made redundant. And, rather than be able to put our energies solely into these changes – to come to terms with them and move forward – our energies have been in great demand from our health, families, friends and general living situations too.
In my role, I speak every day with people who are managing these changes and transitions in their lives. One group that has had to navigate an even more complex set of circumstances (if that is even possible) is new parents and those who have expanded their family during the pandemic.
It is a sad fact that, since the dawn of working parenthood, those on parental leave have faced feelings of isolation. The adjustment to new patterns both before and after the arrival of their child and, in the most tragic of circumstances, when things don’t go to plan, is significant. Many find it a shock to the system or disconnecting to be away from work and their colleagues.
During a pandemic, this is only heightened. That advice of ‘just get out somewhere once a day to connect with other people’ during your maternity/paternity/adoption leave has become near impossible under lockdown conditions. No local community clubs, no eating-in at cafes. And, it is much more challenging to access the usual support from close friends and family. This human contact and network to laugh, cry, share stories with, receive practical support from and help you to know you aren’t alone is so important for combatting issues like post-natal depression.
Also, many parents (particularly Mums, who continue to take the lion’s share of parental leave and parenting responsibilities) are now facing an extended period away from the ‘workplace’. Many of those who went on maternity leave in 2019 still haven’t set foot back in the office/warehouse/shop and so-on because of Covid-19. This means they’re yet to experience what it’s like to settle into a ‘usual’ rhythm of work, childcare and managing the typical logistics of parenthood. Some have also found it hard to reconnect with their work and colleagues in the same way. Add to that trying to juggle a baby and a day full of phone or web calls! Those returning to front-line jobs have the added anxiety of health risks for themselves and their young family, which can cause significant stress.
Organisations are beginning to cotton on to the importance and benefit of providing structured support, such as career transition services, for individuals going through important life and career changes such as parental leave. Alongside local health services, employers have an important and significant role in helping working parents remain healthy, engaged and successful before, during and after their parental leave.
Just like a period of long-term sickness, parental returners benefit greatly from a structured and supported return to work. Career returner programs and parental transition support offer guidance and development for both parents and their line managers. This can often be in the form of helpful guidance and resources or more hands-on support like one-to-one career transition coaching and group workshops. These give the opportunity to connect with others in similar situations (helping new parents to know they aren’t alone), people who have been through a similar transition and can offer advice, or experts who can give advice.
If you are going through a parental transition yourself, have recently returned to work from parental leave or are an employer considering how to best help your new parents as they transition, if you haven’t already, you may want to consider the following:
- Putting in place a Parental Network or Advocate Group to provide a group of mentors and forums for parents to connect with others
- Putting in place a buddy system
- One-to-one transition coaching from a professional coach before, during and after leave
- Group workshops before parental leave
- Parental returner workshops to support individuals transitioning back into work successfully
- Providing guidance and tips through online resources or an app
- Providing training and guidance to managers to help them better support and stay in contact with their team members who are on leave
- Counselling services, or an EAP system, that supports parents or those on their fertility journey with grief and emotional challenges
- On-site creche facilities (when and where safe to do so)
- Easy access to an HR person or other professional who can answer important questions about pay, policies and processes
- Starting positive conversations and shifting behaviour to support a culture of openness and flexibility, where new parents are able to feel confident about their contributions and ability to succeed at work and home
- Policies and systems that support part-time and flexible working
- Championing of Shared Parental Leave
Even if you start with a couple of these, they are sure to make a significant difference. There are lots of free resources available through organisations such as ACAS and complemented by targeted and professional support like career returner programs. There is significant evidence that the lives of new working parents can be greatly improved – also to the benefit of the employer who reaps the rewards of retaining great talent, improving diversity and looking after the physical and mental wellbeing of their people.
Author, Kate Keaney – CEO at Connor
Kate is an energetic and passionate leader with a unique combination of vision, drive, pragmatism and practicality. She joined Connor in 2016, a leading outplacement service provider and became CEO in 2018. Since then, Kate has led Connor through an exciting period of growth and reorganisation and is a strong champion of technology as an enabler of effective organisational transformation.