Starting, or continuing, to build one’s family is a life changing experience that can sometimes be a bit stressful – especially for new parents. In our evolving workplace, family structure has changed and the needs of parents to be available for their new little ones while still supporting and providing for them through continued employment is critical. Whether it is through pregnancy or adoption, the time commitment required to start or continue a family can put a strain on our employees and it is important that we know how to best support them as their employers.
As HR Leaders, knowing the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) like the back of your hand is expected. With additional lactation room/break requirements added to FLSA last year, the legal side of what we need to do in this area is clear regardless of whether a family is adopting or going through pregnancy. If you are not well versed on either piece of legislation I would recommend brushing up with FMLA, FLSA, and Nursing Mothers, using a checklist or guide, looking for CE opportunities or seminars, and then discussing with your legal department regarding compliance. That being said, knowing the legal minimum and doing what is best for your employees is not always the same thing and certainly doesn’t start and end with FMLA and ACA.
Live by the List
For most soon-to-be parents, the focus often falls onto things like baby showers, organizing the nursery, and what being a parent will entail; for those who are adopting, reviewing legal documents, planning for child service visits and thinking about the unique challenges of adopting are an added dimension. While we can’t remove the normal effort associated with daily work, we can step in to help make sure that the work environment doesn’t add to our employees stress.
Developing a checklist of resources available to new parents is a huge time saver and consolidates what they need to know into one location. Consider including the following:
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- Applicable FMLA/FSLA policy documents and guides, anything else that might be useful regarding their rights as employees, preferably in unified formats.
- Location of lactation room(s) for those who will need them when they return from leave.
- Contact numbers for specialists and counselors in case new parents have questions or need assistance.
- Highlighting insurance policies that are beneficial for families with children.
- Additional resource options, such as loaner laptops for those who would like to work remotely and how to reserve them.
I’ve pointed out in previous posts how competitive hiring practices and retention of employees often revolve around the things we offer as an advantage in the employment market. In the area of young families and new parents, two specific things can be done to attract younger professionals:
- Competitive Paid Maternity & Paternity Leave – while most companies offer optional maternity leave for employees, the shift to dual income families means that sharing the responsibilities of parenting is commonplace and more companies are beginning to offer paternity leave for new fathers as well. By being progressive in offering this option to all employees, this rarely needed low-cost perk can be of great value to a family, building a good relationship between your company and your employees.
- Work From Home – if your employees are able to work remotely, giving them the option of easing back into the workforce from the comfort of home during the initial months following pregnancy or adoption can help ensure a smooth transition back to office life. It also allows fathers and mothers to enjoy quality time with their children during this critical time period. Early separation from a newborn can often lead to higher exit rates for new mothers as they try to find more flexible job options and working from home is being viewed as a low or no-cost alternative for many businesses. If for some reason your employee is not already set to work remotely, think about ways to have them set up with a laptop/tablet as needed during their leave…you’ll be surprised at how quickly they will be able to get back into the swing of things.
Understanding the Impact
While the obvious focus on new parents will revolve around those folks having the baby or adopting, the general well-being and balance of the teams they work on can’t be ignored. As part of extended paternity/maternity leave it is important to take into account and vocalize the following with team leads and managers:
- Coverage during leave including a roadmap for transferring responsibilities to and from employees as they leave and then return to the workforce.
- Addressing concerns about additional workload and stress on the team and how it impacts them directly.
- Making sure that long term goals and timelines for projects will reflect team members being unavailable and shoring up those responsibilities.
- We often take for granted that team members will be supportive of those going through this formative time frame in their lives, but it is important to note any signs of resentment or concern and to work with those individuals privately.
Why We Work
For new families, the addition of a child changes the very concept of daily life, routine, and values. The old adage of “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more true (even if the “village” looks a little different nowadays) and many of us have already made use of the many benefits available in this area. By taking an active role in supporting our employees during this time, we can ensure that we continue to be an important factor to them (and their family’s) futures.