Supporting parents returning to work

Supporting parents returning to work from maternity, paternity or adoption leave is as important for the business as it is for the individual – and with more people in work than ever before, it has never been more crucial for employers to be more family friendly.

The groundwork

The support an organisation gives to parents returning to work should start even before they go on maternity/paternity leave.

Sadly, maternity discrimination remains a reality with one in five UK employers admitting pregnancy and children impact their decision to promote female employees. And women are conscious of this. Anxiety about job security and barriers to promotion remain rife for those facing maternity leave and juggling motherhood with career progression.

Access to and transparency of your maternity/paternity and adoption leave policy is key here. Is your policy easily accessible and discussed as openly as holiday entitlement for example, or are your people browsing the employee handbook under the cover of darkness for fear of being caught checking their rights?

A new approach to working patterns

Flexible working offers a host of benefits to the company and working parents, and it means oh so much more than reduced hours.

Consider adjusting the working day to enable parents to do the school run or introducing flexible patterns of work to mirror school term times. Similarly, compressing hours to accommodate a shorter working week, project working, job share opportunities or working from home are all conducive to greater work-life balance, heightened job satisfaction, increased productivity and greater employee loyalty.

Indeed, data from a survey of 6025 participants analysed by the University of Manchester and the University of Essex revealed that women with two children who worked reduced hours through part-time, job share and term-time flexible working arrangements were 37% less stressed than those working in jobs where flexible working was not available.

Every situation is unique, so innovate

New parents are often told “every child is different” so the same appreciation needs to be given to parents at work, every situation is unique. Prescriptive parental flexible working can be restrictive; rather for flexible working to be a success for all parties, it needs to be developed in collaboration and with a consideration for the individual, their family set-up and childcare needs, as well as for the needs of the business.

Policies, flexible working and a supportive return to work process is just the beginning, however. What can your organisation do to support working families?

Now is the time to innovate:

Alternative childcare – Last minute changes or cancellation of childcare arrangements and school closures are inevitable and unavoidable. Do you offer the ability for parents to bring children into the office in such emergency situations? Or indeed, could you supplement emergency childcare fees? Or even offer paid, high quality childcare as an employee benefit?

Banish “battery hen” working – In her 2018 TED Talk, Mother Pukka founder Anna Whitehouse explained how she felt “pushed out of the workforce simply for pushing out a baby”. Her flexible working request to adjust her hours by a mere 15 minutes was refused, because “there was a fear it would open the floodgates to others seeking this kind of flexibility”. This “fear” of flexibility is routed in a culture overly reliant on presenteeism. To be seen and be present is to be trusted as doing your job. But this is where we need a culture shift. It is the output of the individual – the quality of work, meeting (or exceeding targets) and adhering to deadlines – that should be the measure of value and success, not the number of hours in, or seen to be in, the office.

Shared parental leave – Time for a biology lesson: it takes two to make a baby. So the same opportunities for flexible working and parental leave should not only available to but also encouraged for male employees, as well as for female.

Facilitate home working – Consider supporting the set-up of the home office for those who choose to work from home. This extends beyond a laptop and mobile phone to fitting out and furnishing the home office – you’re investing in your people.

How does your organisation support parents? We’d love to know the creative and innovate ways you ensure your people feel supported.

Want to give more support to parents? Interested in implementing flexible working but unsure how it will work for your organisation? Talk to us at Tell Jane, we can help. Simply email


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