For a long time, work life was viewed as separate to home life. When employees arrived at work, there was an unspoken rule that whatever was going on at home stayed at home. It shouldn’t affect your ability to do your job. Over time we’ve come to learn this artificial approach to the working environment just doesn’t work. It’s simply impossible to switch off and focus exclusively on work.
A number of business leaders have recognised the flawed nature of this old idea and are taking deliberate steps to become more inclusive. They accept that each and every employee is unique and each are balancing work priorities with priorities at home.
Unfortunately, too many businesses today continue to operate a work versus home mentality, possibly not deliberately, but the result is the same. This has a direct impact on weakening the employee experience and will likely lead to negative outcomes for the business through diminished intrinsic motivation and reduced productivity.
Creating a flexible working environment can be a real advantage for businesses whilst creating real value for employees. One example of this is how some businesses are thinking about how to accommodate pregnant employees, both before and after the birth. They see it as part of their employee proposition to be proactive, considered and fair.
Expecting a baby, is life changing for an employee. It also throws up a whole bunch of new challenges i.e. when do I share with my employer that I’m/my partner is pregnant?; how much time will I ask to take off?; how much time off am I entitled to?; is my job safe?; will I be treated differently by my employer and colleagues? These are all new stresses that employers can reduce by proactively being supportive and communicating entitlements. Some policies may be written down, but they are not always easily understood, so it can be more effective to discuss these with employees verbally and informally. It sets the tone and lets them know that the business genuinely cares about them.
It’s fair to say that many new parents have the intention to return to work after a period of time off on parental leave. In fact, in New Zealand you have the right to return to your previous employment unobstructed following the birth of your baby if certain conditions are met1. So, it makes sense that employers should remain in close contact, sharing updates about how things are going at work and learning about how things are progressing with the new baby. You can involve employees who are on maternity leave in team activities and training days once they’re ready. This makes the transition back to work less stressful as the employee is likely to feel more connected and up to speed, and secondly, it helps to keep communication channels open for the employer. It also means employers are likely to learn sooner if the new parent is considering delaying their return or maybe not returning at all.
Not all babies arrive healthy, so as an employer it’s good to be mindful and ready to provide support in the instance of illness, or even still births. Miscarriages are also surprisingly common, so if your employee confides in you about this, it’s good to provide as much support as you can and also remind them about EAP assistance programs and counselling. In fact, a more formal support structure might be particularly useful here. It could include employer funded health insurance that after one year of continuous membership may provide cover towards obstetrics2. It’s also a good idea for employees to add newborns to their existing Southern Cross policy, especially when, depending on the plan, any third or subsequent child is free3.
This is where considered planning and preparation can be beneficial. It’s not useful for an employer to expect an employee to slip straight back into their previous routine like nothing has changed. Offering flexibility with working hours, expecting and accommodating short notice unavailability and allowing (if not encouraging) the new baby coming to work for breastfeeding are all things that can be done to improve the employee experience.
Providing an appropriate space for breastfeeding mothers is another useful consideration – and the best way to go about doing this is in collaboration with the employee even before they return. Ask them what they prefer and consider if it is feasible.
Leaving young children at daycare to return to work can be hard, so maybe you could welcome other parents of older children to support them and offer encouragement in those first weeks back.
It’s worth noting that as an EY report found, women in flexible work can be the most productive members of the workforce. EY found that women wasted only 11.1 per cent of their time, compared to an average 14.5 per cent of the rest of the workforce4.
Remember, the way you consider and treat family-related challenges can and will have a direct impact on your employee experience. It will impact motivation, discretionary effort and productivity. Businesses are likely to benefit through increased retention and engagement with employees feeling more fulfilled and less stressed - not only for those directly impacted, but also for those employees who see the positive way others are being treated.