When Allison Whalen returned to her job following her first maternity leave in 2017, she felt “completely overwhelmed” by the lack of supportive resources available to guide her through the leave and return-to-work process.
“I ended up getting through that first three months back at work and I realized there were about 50 things that I wish someone had told me before I’d even been on leave,” says Whalen.
Whalen says she felt lost in understanding how much child care she would need before and after returning to the office, and felt left behind on her professional development.
After returning to work for a previous employer, Whalen knew something needed to change for working parents going out and coming back from leave. She started Parentaly a parental leave benefits company, in order to help employers streamline the process of getting new parents back to work.
Parentaly provides companies and workers with tools, coaching and resources that help working parents navigate the before and after of parental leave, without sacrificing their career and helping the organization retain its talent.
These benefits became even more critical during the pandemic. Whalen herself experienced her second maternity leave this summer, and having a plan for how she would navigate this time helped her stay productive. Remote work due to COVID was an added bonus for both her and her spouse, she says.
“My second maternity leave was a way better experience because I had made a plan that around six weeks postpartum, I wanted to start spending about two to four hours a week doing work,” Whalen says. “That was possible because [my husband] wasn’t commuting and he had breaks in between meetings where he could take a walk [with the baby]. We could plan because he was there.”
While the pandemic has been a huge challenge for working parents, more flexible work arrangements have actually been beneficial to their overall productivity. Thirty percent of the working parents reported an increase in productivity during the pandemic, according to research from Rutgers University. Overall, 94% of employers say that even with employees working remotely, productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, according to Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm.
But flexible scheduling is just one part of the puzzle for employers wanting to support working parents. Companies that invest in employees and their families with benefits prioritizing their unique challenges see 5.5 times more revenue growth thanks to greater innovation, higher talent retention and increased productivity, according to research by Great Places to Work and Maven Clinic, a health services provider that supports women and families with their fertility, maternity, and pediatrics needs.
“So much of this comes down to productivity,” Whalen says. “[It’s about] how parents teach themselves to improve their productivity and then how the culture of the organization supports that productivity.”
To keep employees engaged and committed to work while juggling their home responsibilities, paid parental leave is a key place to start when employers look to boost their benefits for working parents. Microsoft offered employee parents 12 weeks of paid time off in order to help them deal with COVID-related school closures. PwC also updated its child care benefits to help parents deal with working from home and virtual school.
While workplaces often focus on maternity leave benefits, it’s critical they provide holistic support for parents at every stage of life, says Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven Clinic.
“The best companies really look at parenthood as a journey. It’s not just about the nine months of pregnancy,” she says. “It’s not just maternity, but it’s fertility, return to work coaching [and] finding backup child care.”
As employers look ahead toward 2021, it’s critical they continue leading with empathy and understanding for working parents.
“The experience of being a working parent during COVID has been intensely difficult and stressful,” Whalen says. “I am hopeful that this experience will result in some major improvements in the longer term for me, namely a reduction in volume and duration of work travel, increased flexibility to work from home, and improved child care benefits.”
Whalen plans to encourage every employer she works with to provide more paid leave and greater flexibility and support when it comes to re-onboarding working parents coming back from leave. These actions now will benefit companies in the long-run.
“COVID has highlighted the importance of focusing on productivity over activity and so we are doing a lot of work focusing on how to work smarter, not harder,” Whalen says. “The companies that will come out on top over the next one to two years are the ones that will continue to invest in developing and retaining top talent during and through this pandemic.”
SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (22 December 2020) “The top tool for retaining your working parent population” (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/parental-leave-and-other-family-planning-benefits-will-be-a-key-investment-in-2021