I’m about to head off on parental leave to have my second baby and know that taking time out of the workforce and re-entering it can be fraught with insecurity, especially for women. It’s very easy to start to question your worth. Thoughts like, “they’ll realise they don’t need me,” and “will my replacement do a better job?” start to pop into your head and no matter how confident and competent you were before taking time out for caring responsibilities, you’re not sure you’re still the same person when you return.
For some parents, being contacted by their employer is the last thing they want when off on parental leave, but for many that’s not the case. Regular contact with employees, while on any type of extended leave, can be a pivotal part of ensuring they feel well supported mentally. I know that when I had my first baby my mental health suffered being stuck at home alone with a newborn and not connected to my work, which I tie so much of my identity to. If you’re a business owner or people leader, make sure you discuss with your employee how they want to be kept engaged during their leave and regularly check-in with them because how they feel might change too.
Returning to work is another big milestone and can be either exciting or terrifying, or sometimes both for someone coming back from leave. One of the pillars to a mentally healthy workplace for us at Business Chicks is complete flexibility for our employees. Parents should feel comfortable and safe to be honest about family commitments – we want our parents to finish at 3pm to do school pickup. We want them to dip out for an hour or so to go to the school concert and not feel like they have to hide it. This year has done a lot for flexible working arrangements and I only hope we can make this the new way we work and not rewind the clock.
I can tell you that when you give a working parent – or any employee – the flexibility they want to blend their work with the other things they value, they’ll give it back to you ten-fold.
Becoming a parent is fraught with judgement, and I believe the key to supporting your workers through and after parental leave is to acknowledge that it will be a different experience for all of us and no one arrangement is right for everyone. Creating a workplace where people feel safe that they can share how they truly feel, where it’s ok to change your mind, and where decisions aren’t judged or pitted against others is how you can support your employees to do what works for them and their family.
Olivia Ruello is the CEO of Business Chicks and an Ambassador of the NSW Government’s Mentally Healthy Workplaces program. The NSW Government is helping to create mentally healthy workplaces by offering businesses with less than 200 employees and all non-for profit organisations access to free mental health programs.