Supporting ‘virtual’ returners from leave during lockdown

Supporting ‘virtual’ returners from leave during lockdown

What a strange time to be returning from parental leave – returning, but not really actually ‘returning.’  This blog considers the advantages and disadvantages of returning during these weeks of lockdown as well as providing some suggestions around how HR and managers can help the transition process.

Advantages of returning now

  • For the first time ever, no returners from parental leave have to worry about settling their babies into childcare! This therefore means no hefty childcare bills, no worry about whether they have made the right choice, no chance of separation anxiety and no night-before-bag-packing routines
  • There’s no commute! Another money-saving opportunity, as well as an extra couple of hours in bed to make up for the sleepless nights parents usually have to contend with ahead of a day at work
  • No last-minute panic about what to wear and no worries about image management
  • Returners will be able to ease themselves back into their professional roles slowly, which will feel much more manageable and less stressful
  • We will all be coming out of isolation over the coming weeks so we will all feel like returners of long-term leave in one way or another. This will be a huge relief to any returner, as it can feel so isolating to feel like you are the only one experiencing the transition
  • Everyone will have a hard time coping with the change over the next few months – this means that your returners won’t be ‘singled out’ as the ones who may be struggling or the ones who feel like they have to work at triple speed and capacity in order to re-establish their positions or credibility with managers

Disadvantages of returning now

  • Is it worth it?’ Some parents about to return to work now may wonder if it is really worth coming back at all. How will they be able to work when they have their baby in the house?  This will be even more difficult for those returners who already have toddlers too.  Organisations run the real danger of losing some of their best talent at a time when parents feel so overwhelmed with their parent/professional responsibilities that they decide to leave
  • For those who do make it back, potentially agreeing with managers to take longer (through parental leave, holidays, furloughing for example), many may struggle to get motivated to work when their daily routine at home hasn’t changed. This will be coupled with the lack of social opportunities which many returners site as being one of the main advantages of going back to work
  • The roles of parent and professional will be so blurred during these first few weeks so it will be harder to focus and concentrate, especially if surrounded by piles of washing and baby toys
  • Relationship-building, especially with new members of the team, will be much more challenging over the phone and video conferencing. Getting to know new managers in particular is hugely important, as trust needs to be built early on for strong longer-term relationships

How can HR help?

  • Ensure there is a guide available around expectations and reassurance for working whilst taking care of a baby/children
  • Personalised welcome back emails with list of support available – including reference to understanding how different and challenging it is to be returning in such circumstances
  • Support for line managers – ensuring they know how to make returners feel part of the team and are able to manage personal expectations around performance
  • Introducing the returner to a buddy or parent mentoring scheme if you have one
  • Offering virtual coaching in groups or 1-1 to help returners establish a work/family balance and a strong sense of the parent vs professional role

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