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Parental Leave: Supporting Return To Work

October 16, 2023

Supporting parents' return to work is essential for creating an inclusive workplace. By addressing diverse needs and implementing thoughtful policies, employers enhance loyalty, productivity, and contribute to a family-friendly future.

A Comprehensive Guide for UK Employers 

The world of work is evolving and so are the needs and expectations of employees.

One crucial aspect of this evolution is the increasing recognition of the importance of supporting parents who are returning to work after the birth or adoption of an infant.

In the United Kingdom, where a diverse and dynamic workforce is the backbone of many industries, it’s essential for employers to understand how to provide effective support for all parents.

This article aims to educate UK employers on the various ways they can support parents returning to work. We will delve into not only the needs of breastfeeding mothers but also the needs of fathers, partners and mothers of non-breastfed / formula-fed infants. By creating inclusive and supportive environments for all parents, employers can foster employee loyalty, productivity, and overall well-being.

This article covers: 

Section 1: Recognising the Importance of Parental Support 

  • Employer Benefits
  • Employee Benefits

Section 2: Tailoring Support for Different Parental Needs 

  • Breastfeeding Mothers 
  • Fathers 
  • Same Sex Partners 
  • Mothers of Non-Breastfed Infants 

Section 3: Implementing Supportive Policies and Practices 

  • Paid Parental Leave 
  • Flexible Working Arrangements 
  • Lactation Support 
  • Childcare Assistance 
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) 
  • Training and Awareness 

Section 4: Creating a Supportive Workplace Culture 

  • Inclusive Language 
  • Role Models 
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) 
  • Manager Training 
  • Flexibility and Adaptability 

Section 5: Legal Considerations 

  • Anti-Discrimination Laws 
  • Shared Parental Leave  
  • Health and Safety  
  • Statutory Leave Entitlements 

Section 6: Conclusion 

Section 1: Recognising the Importance of Parental Support 

Mother with daughter

Before we delve into the specifics, it’s crucial for employers to understand why supporting parents returning to work is essential. 

Employer Benefits

Supporting parents returning to work offers several advantages for employers: 

  1. Enhanced Employee Loyalty: When employees feel supported during their transition back to work, they are more likely to remain loyal to their employer.
  2. Increased Productivity: Satisfied and motivated employees are more productive, benefiting both the individual and the organisation.
  3. Talent Retention: Providing support can help retain valuable talent, saving the time and resources required to recruit and train new employees.
  4. Positive Company Image: A reputation for being a family-friendly employer can attract top talent and enhance a company’s image in the market.

Employee Benefits

In addition to benefits for employers, equally as important are the benefits that employees enjoy when they receive support as they return to work: 

  1. Reduced Stress: Adequate support can ease the transition, reducing the stress and anxiety often associated with returning to work after parental leave.
  2. Work-Life Balance: Supporting parents in managing their family responsibilities and work commitments helps them achieve a better work-life balance.
  3. Career Progression: Enabling parents to continue their careers fosters a sense of fulfilment and empowerment.
  4. Gender Equality: Providing equal support to both mothers and fathers promotes gender equality in the workplace.

Section 2: Tailoring Support for Different Parental Needs 

same sex parents

Furthermore, it’s important to recognise that the needs of parents returning to work can vary significantly depending on their individual circumstances. For instance, we will explore how to support breastfeeding mothers, mothers of non-breastfed infants, same sex partners and fathers.

Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers 

Breastfeeding mothers often have unique needs when returning to work that require support, empathy and understanding. Never assume a mother returning to work will be breastfeeding but ensure that a channel of communication is open with the employee, so you can be accommodating to their needs when returning to work. Be aware that the mother and their infant needs may change. It’s best to expect this to happen; be flexible and understanding. Employers can provide essential support in the following ways:

  1. Flexible Schedules: Offer flexible working hours or part-time options to accommodate breastfeeding schedules.
  2. On-Site Facilities: Create dedicated lactation rooms with comfortable seating, breast pumps, and refrigerators for milk storage.
  3. Remote Work Options: Consider allowing telecommuting, at least part of the time, to facilitate breastfeeding mothers’ transition back to work.
  4. Education and Training: Provide breastfeeding-friendly policies and educate all employees about them to foster a supportive workplace culture.

For more on how best to support new mothers in the workplace, visit our other article: Navigating UK Employment Law: Maternity Leave Return and How Employers can Best Support Breastfeeding Parents in the Workplace.

Supporting Fathers 

Firstly, fathers are increasingly involved in caregiving responsibilities, and their needs should not be overlooked. Certainly, research suggests that fathers may not often be handling the night feeds, although it should not be overlooked that their sleep may still be disrupted or disturbed. Above all, being understanding and flexible can help them to adjust to fatherhood in the workplace. Here’s how employers can support fathers returning to work:

  1. Paternity Leave: Offer flexible paternity leave options to give fathers dedicated time to bond with their child and support their partner as they require. 
  1. Flexible Schedules: Allow fathers to adjust their working hours to be more available for their children, especially during the early months. 
  1. Encourage Work-Life Balance: Promote a culture that encourages work-life balance for all employees, not just mothers. 
  1. Parenting Resources: Provide access to resources, such as parenting workshops or counselling, to help fathers navigate their new roles. 

Supporting Same Sex Partners 

There aren’t specific rights exclusively for same-sex couples, but same sex couples have the right to receive the same leave and pay as individuals who are either expecting or adopting a child – i.e. Paternity Leave, Adoption Leave or Shared Parental Leave. The specifics of their entitlement can vary based on their unique circumstances and the organisation and whether they are the primary carer, or secondary carer.

To clarify, some employers might provide enhanced parental leave packages for primary or secondary carers, which must not display any form of discrimination against same-sex couples.

Supporting Mothers Who Do Not Feed Their Infant Breastmilk 

Never make an assumption about how a mother is going to feed her child.  

You should have an open conversation about the employees’ circumstance and individual needs on one of their Keep in Touch (KIT) days, before returning to work. Of course, there are various medical and emotional reasons in how mothers choose to feed their infant, and all ways should be supported. Mothers who do not breastfeed their infant, will also require a level of support and understanding as they return to work. Here’s how employers can assist them: 

  1. Flexible Hours: Allow mothers to adjust their schedules to accommodate their child’s care arrangements.
  2. Affordable Childcare: Facilitate access to quality and affordable childcare services, which are critical for mothers returning to work.
  3. Remote Work Options: Consider remote work or flexible working arrangements when feasible to help mothers balance work and childcare.
  4. Maternal Health Support: Recognise that mothers still need time and support to recover from childbirth, even when not breastfeeding.

Section 3: Implementing Supportive Policies and Practices 

Now that we’ve subsequently covered the different needs of parents, let’s explore the policies and practices that can help employers create a supportive environment. 

Paid Maternity or Paternity Leave

Paid parental leave, such as Maternity and Paternity Leaves, is a fundamental policy for supporting parents returning to work. The UK government has made strides in this area with Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which allows parents to share leave entitlement. Employers can further support their employees by offering additional paid leave or enhanced SPL packages.

Unpaid Parental Leave

Parental Leave is an entitlement for parents to take unpaid leave in the UK anytime up until their child’s 18th birthday. Parents are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is 4 weeks for each child (unless an agreement is made otherwise).

Flexible Working Arrangements 

Flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime and remote work, are invaluable for parents. Certainly, employers should establish clear guidelines for requesting and implementing flexible work schedules, making the process as accessible as possible for all employees. 

Lactation Support 

For breastfeeding mothers, providing dedicated lactation rooms with appropriate amenities is essential, but not legally obligated in the UK. Employers should consider offering breaks for expressing milk during the workday and a comfortable room where a mother can privately exp: Navigating UK Employment Law: Maternity Leave Return and How Employers can Best Support Breastfeeding Parents in the Workplace.

Childcare Assistance 

Supporting parents returning to work can also involve helping them access affordable and reliable childcare services. Employers can explore partnerships with providers or offer subsidies to reduce the financial burden on parents. In fact, Anya works with thousands of employers to support with employees parenting journeys. Consequently, we include the preparation for maternity leave and antenatal journey all the way up and beyond their return to work.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) 

Employee Assistance Programmes can provide parents with resources for managing stress, balancing work and family life, and accessing support services. Programmes benefit both parents and the organisation by promoting employee well-being. Above all, Anya is an EAP that can support your parental workforce’s wellbeing by empowering parents on their journey to parenthood (and beyond!). Our specialists provide personalised 1-2-1 support for parents through our app along with various other evidence based support, including 24/7 specialist support via empathetic AI-powered technology. Read more about how our AI-powered technology works with real, human specialists to provide evidence-based, empathetic companionship.

Training and Awareness 

Educate all employees, including managers, about the challenges parents face when returning to work. For instance, training should focus on creating a supportive and inclusive work environment. It should be free from discrimination or bias related to parenthood.

Section 4: Creating a Supportive Workplace Culture 

happy group at work

Beyond policies and practices, fostering a supportive workplace culture is crucial for long-term success in helping parents return to work. Here’s how employers can achieve this: 

Inclusive Language 

Firstly, use inclusive language that recognises and respects all types of families and caregiving arrangements. Always avoid making assumptions about employees’ roles and responsibilities outside of work. 

Role Models 

Highlight by celebrating parents who are actively engaging in secondary caregiving within the organisation, including fathers or partners who are actively engaged in secondary caregiving. Celebrate their achievements and their ability to balance work and family life – it’s not a breeze, ask any parent!

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) 

Encourage the formation of ERGs focused on parenthood. These groups can provide a platform for parents to share experiences, offer peer support, and make recommendations for improvements in the workplace. Anya provides Virtual Communities for parents to connect peer-to-peer and share experiences; supporting a positive mental wellbeing.  

Manager Training 

Provide training for managers on how to support employees returning from family leave. Managers play a crucial role in setting the tone for the department and ensuring that employees receive the support they need. 

Flexibility and Adaptability 

Recognise that the needs of parents may change over time. Be open to revisiting and adapting policies and practices to better meet these evolving needs. Regular communication with your employee(s) is key to this.  

Section 5: Legal Considerations 

Employers in the UK must be aware of the legal requirements related to supporting parents returning to work: 

Anti-Discrimination Laws 

Ensure compliance with the Equality Act 2010, which protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, maternity, paternity, or adoption. 

Shared Parental Leave 

Understand the Shared Parental Leave regulations and offer this option to eligible employees. 

Health and Safety 

Conduct a thorough health and safety risk assessment for pregnant employees and those who have recently given birth, and make necessary adjustments to ensure their safety. 

Statutory Leave Entitlements 

Be aware of statutory leave entitlements, such as maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave, and communicate these clearly to employees.  

Section 6: Conclusion

Supporting parents returning to work is not just a matter of policy compliance; it’s a way for employers in the UK to create a more inclusive, productive, and compassionate workplace. By understanding and addressing the diverse needs of parents, from breastfeeding mothers to fathers and mothers of non-breastfed infants, employers can foster an environment where all employees can thrive both personally and professionally. In doing so, they contribute to a brighter future for families and the workforce. 

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