What Executives Should Consider About Maternity Leave

The United States is often seen as behind the times when it comes to leave for a new child. Although FMLA guarantees twelve weeks of protected leave for individuals who work at larger companies, it’s not enough. Many new families can’t afford to take twelve weeks without a full salary and those who work at smaller companies often have to return to work after Short Term Disability ends.

Even when companies offer friendly parental leave policies, parents are often afraid of repercussions if they take time off. I know a few mothers and fathers who didn’t take full advantage of family leave policies, because they were afraid of it impacting their bonus and potential for promotion. 

The truth is family leave can be disruptive to a business if a company doesn’t have an effective plan for extended leaves of absence. Now while this shouldn’t be a shocking revelation to anyone, individuals and organizations do themselves a disservice when they deny this reality. Employers who don’t have a good strategy in place for leave are the ones who will end up with businesses and employees that will suffer. This can be evidenced in several ways:

  • First, the company may not coordinate adequate coverage while the person is out. As a former Manager, I can tell you that everyone will feel the pain if you don’t have solid, effective plan.
  • Second, if a company doesn’t offer adequate pay and time for the person who is out, that experienced employee is likely to leave. Paid leave plans are a part of a good employee retention policy.
  • Third, other employees are watching how managers treat individuals who have children. If a company lacks good policies, and is unable to accommodate the needs of parents, valuable employees may decide it's time to find a new job.

There are some really great ways for companies to manage family leave positively and effectively:

  1. Consider paid parental leave as part of an overall compensation and retention strategy. Policies can vary across the board, but I would very strongly urge organizations that are lower-paying to have paid policies, as individuals with a lower income may not be able to afford to take leave otherwise. 
  2. Businesses should consider whether they can allow an individual to have a flexible schedule upon returning to work. Can the person work three or four days for a few months as they ease back into their responsibilities? Could they work from home part-time?
  3. Plan redundancy policies far in advance of someone going out on leave. Involve the individual in putting together a detailed plan of their workload, processes and responsibilities and find out what takes most of their time. Consider splitting the workload amongst several people, to lessen the burden of any individual. Then, have the individual who is going on leave spend several weeks training the people who will be covering. 
  4. Use the individual’s time away to your advantage. This may be a good time to test a junior employee by temporarily giving them more senior responsibilities.
  5. Set up a reintegration program for when individuals return from leave. Make sure they are given a week or two of ramp-up time. Then, schedule a regular check-in for a few months to see how things are going and where they may be struggling.
  6. Sixth, make sure it is culturally acceptable for women and men to take leave within the organization. Managers, Directors, etc. all need to be required to take family leave or their team won’t feel a comfortable taking it. In addition, make sure that individuals who have taken leave aren’t left out of consideration for promotions and other leadership opportunities. Double-check to make sure that those who returned from leave aren’t being left off of important projects.

I know I may have gotten a bit off-track here for a blog dedicated to career advice, but it’s so important to understand that while leave can be disruptive, it’s the company’s policies or lack thereof that can make it a problem rather than a normal part of business.

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