At a time when many companies are cutting back on work-life benefits, others are going all in.
Imagine having just welcomed a new child and gearing up to return to work from parental leave. Then, the COVID-19 crisis hits. You’re working from home with no child care. You’re not returning to the physical office — you’re still immersed in the world of feeding and diapering, while simultaneously showing up for Zoom meetings and scrambling to adjust.
The parental leave transition, which we define as the period of time you’re preparing to leave work, through the time you spend bonding with your new child during leave, and the time it takes to adjust to being back at work, is always challenging. But the pandemic has made the transition even more potentially fraught.
One of our clients, a maker of beauty products, has always held supporting working parents as a core value. Earlier this year, before the novel coronavirus shuttered offices around the U.S., this client had contracted with my company, The Center for Parental Leave Leadership, and one of our certified parental leave coaches, leadership consultant Deanna Siegel Senior of www.dss-advisory.com, to create a customized group coaching experience for new parents returning to work. We designed a program to educate new parents about the opportunities inherent in this major life transition, give them the tools they need to adjust, and build an affinity group with their fellow new working parents — all while providing support through the guidance and facilitation of an expert parental leave coach.
This client was banking on the knowledge that providing true support to working parents not only retains key talent, but helps them perform at their best and leverage the inherent personal and professional growth opportunities that becoming a parent creates.
Once the breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, our client took the opposite approach of many companies facing this new reality. Instead of cutting work-life programs to the bone — they’ve doubled down on helping new parents cope with a very bizarre re-entry into the work world.
Their Senior Manager for Global Talent Development put it this way:
“The current global COVID-19 crisis is a reality for all of us and is difficult on everyone right now, but it can be particularly hard for working parents, especially those that have recently welcomed a newborn into their family. For this reason, we felt it was even more critical to support our new parents as they return to work and we therefore proceeded with our plans to kick off our new coaching program. The program strengthens our commitment to fostering an inclusive culture and to achieve (one day) the target of being ‘The best beauty company to work for!’”
And it’s paying off. Participants uniformly indicated they’d recommend the series to other new parents and said they gained valuable information they could apply immediately.
The cohort is meeting with their coach via Zoom and getting the chance to truly connect with one another and share their experiences around becoming a parent and managing a return to work that doesn’t involve physically returning to the office.
One father expressed gratitude that the sessions provided a chance to connect with others that the crisis had denied him. He’d been looking forward to chatting with other dads at the water cooler and getting advice on how to handle challenges all new parents face like making sure partners have time to connect with one another as well as quality time with their new child.
Others recognized silver linings of the crisis. One dad talked about one of the gifts of being home was that he got to see his son crawl for the first time — recognizing that was a milestone he would have missed during normal times.
During one session, a mom’s baby started to cry. Her partner brought the baby in to nurse and the mom discreetly shut off the camera but stayed in the conversation — something she would not have felt comfortable doing in a face to face meeting.
This type of supportive group environment creates a climate of understanding and allows everyone the space and grace to integrate work and home in new ways. Which is an experience that they will bring with them when it is time to go back into the office.
The cohort began the coaching series by assessing their assets and liabilities unique to their transition by taking the Parental Leave Transition Assessment (PLTA), an evidence-based tool we developed over many years that helps identify strengths parents can leverage, as well as potential sabotages to their successful return to work and enjoyment of working parenthood.
Coach Deanna Siegel Senior says the assessment tool lets her “get at the deeper personal experiences and issues critical to this time immediately, instead of building up trust over multiple coaching sessions.”
Too often, the importance of psycho-social health are ignored in the workplace. Wendy Davis, PhD, PMH-C, and executive director of our partner organization, Postpartum Support International says, “We hear every day from expectant and new parents struggling to find their way during this time. By focusing on the health and wellness of their working parents, companies acknowledge the deeper needs of their employees to find meaning in their journey to parenthood and their new working parent identity.”
Before coronavirus hit, U.S. companies were finally starting to see the parental leave transition as a moment deserving of extra investment, and many are now abandoning that in the face of economic uncertainty.
Companies who commit to doubling down on support for new parents serve as an example to other forward-thinking companies. We are seeing that far from being extraneous, such programs are the key to helping working parents maintain their productivity — and mental health — while they raise a child and reenter the workforce at one of the most challenging times in history.