Effectively Communicating with Employees on Parental Leave
The introduction of a Government funded system of paid parental leave has required many companies to re-evaluate the way they handle their work/life balance policies and procedures.
There are significant advantages to the paid parental leave system: it encourages staff retention and loyalty and increases return to work rates, it also improves productivity and reduces company turnover costs. Offering paid parental leave as part of a suite of other equal opportunity policies is likely to further enhance the benefits to your company.
Under the Government’s provisions, employers must provide parental leave pay to employees: who have worked at the organisation for 12 or more months prior to the birth/adoption of a child, who will be an employee for the duration of their parental leave pay and those who are Australian based.
Under the National Employment Standards employees are also entitled to take up to 12 months unpaid parental leave with the right to request an additional 12 months, subject to some requirements in the Fair work Act 2009. The National Employment Standards provide employees with a return-to-work guarantee enabling them to return to the position they held before they went on leave and if that position no longer exists then another position with similar status and pay.
This potentially long period of time away from a workplace can cause employees on leave to feel disconnected and out-of-touch with industry developments, organisational changes and staffing. In fact a survey of more than 1000 Australian mums conducted for Procter and Gamble in January found that 87 per cent experience feelings of isolation1.
In its Best Practice Guide to Parental Leave the Fair Work Ombudsman says that good communication arrangements between a company and an employee on parental leave can help employees feel attached to their workplace, career and colleagues increasing the likelihood of them returning to work.
There are plenty to ways to stay in touch with employees on parental leave and for maximum effectiveness the communication should start before an employee even starts a period of leave.
Making Your Case
- Sitting down with an employee before they start their period of leave to discuss key contacts, handover of work or clients and important dates and milestones which will occur during the leave period.
- Supplying your employee with company fact sheets on flexible work policies and procedures, child care and other equal opportunity measures to encourage them to think about how and when they would like to work when they return.
- Arranging a pre-determined time to get in touch with an employee on leave, so the employee’s expectations and preferences concerning contact during parental leave can be considered and managed.
- Ensuring another staff member is assigned the task of forwarding important information about the workplace to the employee on leave, such as changes to the structure of the employee’s workplace, staff changes important milestones or achievements and news.
- Forwarding staff newsletters, updates and important emails to the employee’s home email account where appropriate or arranging for them to have remote access to their work email account where practicable.
- Using a Stay in Touch Parental Leave program such as that offered by Care Corporate to supply monthly updates on baby development and parenting in addition to organisational news.
- Arranging a meeting with the employee when they are nearing the end of their leave to discuss the return-to-work expectations of the employee and the employer, such as hours of work, flexible working arrangements, or any adjustments that will need to be made to their role.
- Inviting employees on parental leave to attend any social events, planning days, training or team building days which occur during their leave.
On this last point keep in mind the fact that employees may choose whether or not to participate in a work function and it is not a requirement. If an employee does attend work or a work function while on leave they need to be compensated at the usual rate of pay.
In addition, the Government’s paid parental scheme allows employees to take 10 keeping in touch with the workplace days while receiving Paid Parental Leave. Additional days in the workplace cause an employee to lose their parental leave pay.
Easing the way for a successful return to work
Communication throughout the period of parental leave is important and will assist your employee to feel connected with colleagues and the company more generally. However, as an employee approaches their return to work date it becomes even more important.
Many new parents feel anxious when contemplating a return to working life, child care can be a worry and despite your best efforts to keep them in the loop many employees may feel nervous about returning to a workplace which has moved on without them.
To maximise the chances of your employee transitioning back to the workplace as effectively and as stress free as possible it is important to start communicating well before the designated return to work date. The following points will ensure you are well positioned to successfully manage your employee’s return to work.
- Use a Stay in Touch Parental Leave program which provides plenty of information about child care options, work/life balance and transitioning back to work to ensure your employee feels well informed about their options.
- Reiterate your organisational policies in regard to flexible work practices and ask your employee to consider how they would like to work within that framework. This should happen by phone, email or in person at least three months in advance of the return to work date.
- Be clear about the company’s expectations in relation to working hours and leave so that the employee understands where they stand in relation to flexible work options. Discuss telecommuting, job share, part time work or a gradual transition to work if any of these apply.
- Ensure your employee is aware of any organisational or job description changes which have occurred in their absence and how they will impact day-to-day working life.
- Detail any resources available to assist parents as they settle their child into care such as breast feeding/expressing rooms, back up child care services and how carers leave and sick days work.
Employees which feel connected to their manager and company are likely to transition back to work with fewer feelings of anxiety and more success.
The Government’s paid parental leave scheme means all companies with eligible employees will face periods when their employees are out of the office for extended amounts of time.
Taking a proactive approach to handling your organisational communication during parental leave increases the likelihood of your employees making a successful transition back to working life and is likely to foster a strong sense of loyalty and goodwill among working parent.
1. The Changing Face of Motherhood Report was compiled for Procter and Gamble by Galaxy Research in January 2012. The sample was 1,006 respondents across Australia. Copies of the report can be downloaded from the Procter and Gamble website: www.pgaustralia.com.au
This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in May 2012