Skip navigation Jump to main navigation

Supporting New Parents Returning to Work in the COVID-19 Environment

Written by Sara E. Daly-Padron, Human Capital Management Lecturer 

As organizations look to move towards reopening, business and Human Capital leaders have an opportunity to up their game to support new parents who can be particularly vulnerable and at risk of leaving the workplace. 

Each day, thousands of new parents return to work after the birth or adoption of a new child. I vividly remember preparing to return from my first maternity leave: mixed emotions of leaving my infant twins at home with a new caregiver, ensuring I had enough sleep to drive, and the excitement of having adult conversations with colleagues. There were ups and downs in those early weeks and months back as I learned to manage my new professional and personal life.

In the COVID-19 environment, new parents are not only managing the typical excitement and nervous energy of a return to work, but doing so in an unstable economic environment with limited options for childcare and filled with personal health and safety concerns. In other words, an already difficult time for many has become even more challenging.

Studies have found that as many as 43% of new mothers leave their jobs within one year of having a baby. What’s interesting is they aren’t always leaving the workforce entirely. Many new mothers, and fathers, leave for organizations that offer more flexibility and family resources, even if that means lower compensation.  Losing employees is costly in terms of loss of intellectual capital and replacement costs, which can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. Investing in supporting new parents can help keep talent.

So how can business and HR leaders help shape a work environment to support and help retain new parents?

  1. Survey your employees. Find out what new parents need and co-create solutions with them based on what you’re hearing. New parents are particularly vulnerable in the pandemic as their support systems have unraveled, so start by understanding their concerns. Flexible working hours, subsidized child care, and even access to virtual maternal and pediatric care can make a big difference.
  2. Review your policies. What kinds of flexibility does your company offer? Does the company provide a transition back to work program for parents returning from leave? What options do employees have to “ramp up”? What percentage of mothers/fathers/partners in your workplace take advantage of the parenting benefits that are available? That last question is really important, because, above all, leadership needs to ensure that policies are embedded in the culture. If moms feel guilty about stepping out of the office to take their child to a doctor appointment, or dads don’t use their parental leave, then it’s not really helping. It is critical for HR leaders to be the champions of these policies and to work with senior leaders to create the culture.
  3. Set up a parental transition program.  For many new parents, this is a critical time where they are still adjusting to the mental, physical and emotional demands of being a new parent on top of their professional responsibilities. Co-creating a plan to leave and return helps ease the transition.  
  4. Foster community & create opportunities for parents to connect. Find ways to help new parents find one another to connect and collaborate. Some examples include setting up employee resource groups for working parents, offering Maternity Mentor programs connecting new moms across the organization, even creating a New Parent slack channel to allow for dialogue
  5. Prepare your managers. While organizations set policies and provide community, employees rely on managers in the day to day to help support them along their parenting journey.  Managers are often the first to recognize signs of burnout in a new parent or a get the request for flexibility from a parent who has needs to attend to a sick or disabled child. Arm them with the tools & resources they need to have open honest conversations on issues and solutions. A manager will not necessarily solve all concerns of a parent, but they can help spot issues and direct them to the help they need.

Think about your own career and the managers that stand out as the best leaders. They most likely fostered open communication, expressed a great deal of empathy and were direct and generous with their feedback. How can you help to foster those qualities so that the new parents in your organization feel supported? For a more expansive discussion on ways to support working parents, tune into a recording of a webinar I participated in with healthcare tech startup Maven Clinic: Back-to-school & beyond: Supporting working parents through the next phase of the child care crisis (to view the webinar, you must first register).

What advice or best practices do you have for new parents in the time of COVID-19? Share your thoughts by tagging the Human Capital Management M.S. program on Twitter at @CU_SPS_HCM or by commenting on LinkedIn.