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BY Samantha Samel

8 Ways Return-To-Work Programs Help New Parents After They Take Leave

By Samantha Samel

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Photo credit: Pixabay

Returning to work after maternity leave is rough. You’re insanely sleep deprived, your body’s been through an overwhelmingly draining process, you’re managing an entirely new schedule – and to top it off, you’re trading precious time with your new favorite human for lots of hours at the office.

Bright Horizons, an employer-sponsored childcare provider, has found that upon returning to work, roughly half of new parents – both men and women – take a job for less money at a family-friendly employer, and three in five (59%) say they’re likely to switch employers now that they have their first child.

Luckily, companies are starting to take note of these trends and are realizing that it’s in their best interest (and their employees’, of course), to make sure new parents are supported when they return to work.

According to Bright Horizons, roughly 80 companies of various sizes have recently implemented new “return-to-work” programs in the past year to better retain employees by mitigating the stress that new parents experience upon resuming their jobs.

“It’s a big transition time for people personally and professionally,” explained Barbara Wankoff, Executive Director for Diversity and Inclusion at KPMG. She recently filled me in on her company’s program, which she said was designed to encourage KPMG employees to return to their jobs after taking leave.

Elizabeth Harrington, AVP, Wellness and Work-Life Strategy Manager at PNC Bank, told me that her colleagues were inspired to create their return-to-work program, known as Great Start, over 16 years ago while building their first onsite childcare center for back-up care. “They recognized that parents returning to work typically have more needs than those with older children and/or established childcare solutions,” she explained.  

How, Exactly, Do These Programs Help New Parents?

1) Return-to-Work Programs can ease the transition for new parents who are looking for more permanent childcare. Harrington said that she and her colleagues want their program to show new parents what high-quality childcare looks like so that they know what to look for when seeking full-time childcare. PNC wanted to provide its employees with financial support by offering care at a very low cost.

2) The programs can -- and should -- be formed in response to employee feedback. To form KPMG’s program, Wankoff and her team wanted to better understand new parents’ experiences and challenges upon coming back to work, so they sought feedback from employees who had gone out on leave. This enabled them to create solutions in direct response to their employees’ needs.

3) Programs can offer parents personalized career-coaching programs. KPMG, for example, provides five hours of individualized coaching for anyone going out on or coming back from leave.

4) Any working parents know that convenience is key - and convenience should the be foundation of a return-to-work program. For example, PNC’s program -- which can be used for newborn and newly-adopted children six weeks through twelve years of age -- offers up to eight consecutive weeks of full-time childcare at one of the company’s onsite centers.

5) With convenience comes flexibility. Parents who take advantage of PNC’s program are able to visit their child at any time and/or to breastfeed in the centers’ private nursing rooms.

6) PNC’s program also aims to minimize the separation anxiety many new parents experience upon returning to work by sending them daily updates and regular photographs of their children from the childcare providers.

7) The programs should be inclusive to all parents. Wankoff says that both women and men who work at KPMG use the program and have responded positively. Similarly, Harrington reports that Great Start has been equally beneficial and accessible to employees (women, men, and adoptive parents) across all types of roles.

8) Finally, employers with return-to-work programs measure their success by issuing evaluation forms or surveys to parents who have participated. By gathering feedback, companies can amend their plans to better serve employees. KPMG is also looking to track the retention of people who have utilized the program versus those those haven’t – though the company doesn’t have enough history quite yet to analyze those results.

Are there Other Ways to Support Working Parents?

In addition to implementing return-to-work programs, companies are finding other ways to support working parents. KPMG, for example, strives to create a culture of flexibility that allows employees to decide where and when they work. They’ve also implemented a lactation program; privacy rooms are available in all offices and employees have the ability to ship milk back to the office when they’re traveling for work.  

PNC has expanded its 100% paid maternity and parental leave policies, giving eligible birth moms up to 10 weeks of paid maternity/disability leave and an additional six weeks of paid parental leave, for a total of 16 weeks of 100 percent paid time off.

Eligible new fathers and adoptive parents who work at PNC can also receive up to six weeks of 100% paid parental leave.

Harrington says that “in addition to supporting a flexible work environment through telecommuting and remote work options, we offer a Reduced Schedule Professional program that allows salaried employees to reduce their schedule to three or four days per week.  While these employees’ pay is adjusted, they are able to maintain their full-time benefits.”

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