Be the Boss Lottery: How Managers Can Win at Parental Leave

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Leading Strategically for the Whole Person and the Whole Team

Are you a manager who thinks parental leave is solely put on this earth to drive you crazy? It’s time for a reframe. Parental leave is instead an important and unique opportunity for managers to shape their own leadership skills and the skills and abilities of their entire team.

Parental leave is an unparalleled opportunity to cross train, improve team communication and processes. Asking the right questions and uncovering development opportunities will set you apart as a manager who turns obstacles into enrichment opportunities. It’s clear that when managers support the parental leave transition, it has a positive impact on families AND on the organization’s culture and bottom line (not to mention, your whole team).

Here are six key opportunities taken from a 43-point checklist for managers to improve performance while making parental leave a better experience. The full checklist is available as part of Making Leave Manageable™, a RETAIN Parental Leave Coaching and training program from the Center for Parental Leave Leadership.

  1. Identify resources. When your direct report announces the news that they are welcoming a new family member, do your own research and then point them to any internal resources your company offers that help explain company policy and procedure around parental leave. For specific questions or guidance, contact your HR administrator or equivalent. (If your organization doesn’t make this easy for you, suggest they reach out to us to learn how.)

  1. Use this opportunity to grow your team. It can be a mindset shift to think of this time as a real gift to you and your team, however, that is the accurate way to look at it. Consider your own skills and abilities, as well as those of your entire team. Once you have identified any gaps or strengths, use the transition to provide opportunities for individual and group development where possible.

  1. Discuss high-level plans. Collaborate with your new parent around their leave planning process. A strong leave planning process can take any format you’d like, but following our Next Steps: Action Plan™ leave and return template guidelines can ensure you cover all necessary items, including:

    • their unique leave details, such as leave and return dates, contact info while away, etc.
    • how they would ideally like to hand off their work and take it back up on their return as well as any contingency plans,
    • if special work arrangements or an alternative work schedule is needed,
    • whether they expect to use accrued vacation time before or after they return to work, and
    • their “Keep in Touch Strategy” while away.

  1. Call a team meeting prior to the new parent’s return. Discuss in reference to their Return Plan to detail how the cover team will hand back work and how the new parent will be re-integrated into team projects and goals upon their return. Don’t do this in a vacuum – the way you conduct this process is the point – using the agreed upon Return Plan while including the new parent to make sure any necessary changes are incorporated, will help them feel welcomed back and considered and make the process more effective. 

  1. Provide a transition mentor. When someone is out of the office for a few months it can feel like everyone moved on without you and you don’t know where to jump back in. Consider providing your new parent with a working-parent transition mentor (we usually just call this a “return to work buddy”) to offer assistance and team updates as they transition back.

  1. Discuss career goals. Upon the new parent’s return, don’t assume they want to take a breather in their career. They might want to, but just as frequently we see people who are invigorated and want to take a leap up in their career. When they have settled in, schedule a meeting to discuss their immediate, mid-range, and long-range career goals. Keep an open mind and watch yourself for assumption bias. It’s important for them to know you want them to stay and continue to progress, while allowing them to take the lead on the specifics.

There are simple things you can do as a manager so this doesn’t have to be a headache. With the right training and a few key opportunities, managers can leverage this time as a professional development opportunity for themselves and their entire team. 

To support managers, the Center for Parental Leave Leadership developed Making Leave Manageable™, the only evidence-based parental leave support program for both managers and employees with the power to truly support your employees and strengthen your work teams. Learn more about the training package here. (Note: We will be launching a Making Leave Manageable Membership Coaching program in Spring 2023 – sign up here to learn details as they become available.)

To gain a greater understanding of the transition from your employee’s perspective, read The Parental Leave Playbook (Wiley 2021) and consider offering it as a resource to your managers and teams.

Join Us!

Small steps WORKING PARENTS can take to improve leave in our country:

Small steps EMPLOYERS can take to improve their employee’s leave experience

  • Join our newsletter to stay updated on how you can support your employees going on leave.
  • Learn more about RETAIN Parental Leave Coaching and CPLL’s suite of solutions – including manager and HR training.
  • Give The Parental Leave Playbook (Wiley, 2021) to all managers and expecting parents (of all gender identification!).
  • Certify one of your HR or Leave Navigators in the RETAIN Parental Leave Coaching method.
  • Invite us to speak at an event or to a group or committee by emailing

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