The Power of the Parent®: why investing in your returners is a great thing…for everybody.
The road to parenthood is diverse – some challenging, some heart breaking, some incredibly straight forward, but what is consistent is that most of the time we see only tiny percentage of what people have experienced to create this new life. Once that child has arrived it doesn’t get any more uniform – it takes you through unexpected twists and turns, resilience tests, patience endurance experiences and feeling a love that you can’t ever put into words. Every parenting journey is different and so is everybody’s return to work – so how can we make the most of returning parents, for all involved?
When we return to work after becoming a parent, we bring so many skills, lots of which can go untapped by ourselves and employers. There’s no time like the present to get to grips with how important attracting and retaining returners is, with ACAS reporting that the average cost to recruit and upskill a new starter being a cool £30,000 surely keeping hold of talent is up there on the list of business priorities? When someone leaves your business, or actively avoids applying for roles within your organisation isn’t it time to ask whose voice we’re losing? Are we bringing in some diversity of thought? There’s a rich tapestry of experience and skill out there, it’s time to go and get it.
The clients I work with often come with similar challenges. For employers they’re wanting to bring fresh thinking in about how to attract and retain their best people – they want to invest in returning talent through value adding support, have talent pipelines that they want to strengthen and sometimes gender pay gaps that they really want to close in a meaningful way. We face into all of the challenges and figure out what they’re already doing well that can be built on and what needs some foundations laying.
When it comes to individuals it varies quite a bit, however some common themes revolve around transitioning from a time where their accountability was pretty much only for themselves to now factoring in child(ren), a growing mental load, the famed parental guilt (that you might not even get!) and childcare admin. Conversations about rediscovering a lost confidence, getting to know themselves again and realising the value they bring to the workplace all feature heavily and whilst completely normal, it’s important not to trivialise these feelings of change they’re experiencing.
Here are some insights through my work with returnees and employers that might just help and spark some different thinking for you…
- Treat returners as a new starter. Maternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave all come with varying amounts of time away from the business but no matter how long somebody is out, things will change. You want to make the most of their time when they return so it’s tempting to just let them find their feet and figure out what they’ve missed, but you’ll get them back up to speed a lot quicker with a re-induction plan. Think about training that’s happened while they’ve been away, new team members, structure changes, remit shifts, new role objectives and making sure they’re set up with technology all goes a long way in making someone feel welcomed back.
- Efficiency is everything. It really is – so why not get a parent who has rising childcare costs to get a project sorted for you, because there won’t be anybody more efficient than someone who has a late collection charge of about £15 a minute from their nursery or childminder, or even worse the glare from a grandparent as you race up the road to extract a sticky grandchild from them after a long day of babysitting. Sure you could argue that they have to leave ‘on time’ and you’d be right – but most people still want to do a great job and manage their time well. Being sat at your desk* (insert your equivalent) for twelve hours a day doesn’t automatically translate to you absolutely nailing your job, it might mean you’re really good at procrastinating, taking on too much or making a cuppa
- Don’t assume parents can’t travel. This is a big one for some of my clients! For some the idea of travelling with work will be the last thing they want, and when talk of the next trip comes up, they’ll go quiet and hope that if they stay small enough in a corner someone else will have their hand up. However, there are parents who relish some time away from their off spring – they might be craving a night in a hotel with the opportunity for a rest, to be able to get ready solo without someone getting toothpaste all over them or to be able to have a dining experience that doesn’t revolve around how balanced the kid’s menu is. As with most things in life, there’s a scale of tolerances when it comes to work and travel so let’s make no assumptions and just ask. If you’re an employer there are ways to ask so that you don’t feel like you’re putting pressure on the employee – keep it open, ask them if they fancy it, reassure them that if they can’t you can work out an alternative (because hopefully you can) and then leave the logistics up to them.
- Focus on strengths and you’ll see the magic happen. What I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is that the minute you talk to people about what energises them, what they love doing and when they feel great, they open up. They stop trying to please everybody else, they don’t give the stock corporate responses they think they should trot out about career development and instead they are able to be THEM. Now some of those paths will cross, but the important thing is that their journey is one of authenticity – which if you’re a strengths and values geek like me, you’ll know that starts at your very core. You’ll drive engagement, productivity and ultimately remind people of who they are and why they matter.
These conversations and questions are incredibly important. It became very obvious to me that you could have all the appraisals in the world and career development discussions pre baby, but once your life has shifted somewhat with the arrival of a tiny person to care for it is inevitable that we change how we define success, what’s important to us and how we need to operate our entire lives. I think it’s fair to say whoever you are having a child changes you – for some it’s big fundamental change, for others it’s smaller stuff but it’s different, nonetheless. Getting to know yourself again after having a family is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle – a lot of the clients I’ve worked with don’t always realise how much has changed for them, all they know is they’re carrying a feeling of something being different and wondering how they get to grips with the career juggle, family life and the dream of time for themselves as well.
Having a successful return doesn’t just happen and it’s about so much more than policies and procedures being followed. Of course, there’s a place for that, but ultimately it’s about line managers supporting and returners finding their voice. Sometimes it can be daunting as a line manager to know where to start and what to say – my advice is keep it simple, challenge your assumptions and be curious because getting to know your returnee (again) can be the difference between retaining your best talent or losing them.