Supporting new parents returning to the workplace following the expansion of their family can be a difficult transition for everyone involved. Regardless of how long the parents had to prepare, caring for a new member of the family – particularly infants – can be downright exhausting. Supporting these employees as they transition back into their work roles following parental leave can improve outcomes on a multitude of factors of work performance.
The most obvious effects of new parenthood is loss of sleep, and studies have shown that sleep deprivation can be as detrimental to reaction times, decision making, and critical thinking as alcohol consumption. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to decreased concentration, creativity, and memory, and increases the risk of physical illness. Chronic fatigue has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and heart attack, as well as decreased immune functioning.
The most important step a leader can take to assist a new parent returning to work is to consciously manage the stress load placed on the employee. Regardless of how well the employee thrived under tight deadlines beforehand, fatigue has been shown to lower the threshold for stress tolerance and decrease optimism, increasing the likelihood that employees will experience burnout. Helping these overloaded employees to ease back into work with smaller, less time-sensitive projects can help to rebuild their confidence in their work performance while maintaining their productivity.
In addition to stress management, new parents will most likely need a bit of help maintaining alertness and focus in the office. A short 20-minute power nap at a desk or in a dedicated nap room can allow an individual to successfully cycle into restorative sleep and boost both productivity and cognitive functioning. If naps aren’t feasible, an electric kettle or coffee pot is an inexpensive addition to the employee kitchen that can keep everyone – including new parents – to feel more alert.
If new parents are still struggling to adjust to their return to work, it may be worthwhile to offer flexible work scheduling. If the nature of the job allows, offering employees a chance to work from home part time may provide a much-appreciated opportunity to complete work tasks while adjusting to their new family life. Similarly, offering flexible hours may help parents to stagger their work schedules to ease the transition back into full-time work.
Finally, one benefit that can help employees struggling to find a balance as working parents is child care assistance. Many large organisations, including Google, have had amazing success with offering on-side childcare. Not only does on-site childcare help women to successfully continue to breastfeed after returning to work, it can reduce parents’ tendency to experience distraction and increase their job satisfaction and work-life balance. If on-side care isn’t feasible, simply assisting parents in making childcare arrangements or offering bonuses towards childcare expenses can go a long ways toward helping parents feel supported by their organisation.
Helping the parents on the staff balance work and life, increase their productivity, and minimise the harmful effects of chronic fatigue can raise job satisfaction and increase tenure. Supporting parents in the workplace has long-reaching implications for organisations that will outlast the temporary costs involved. Encouraging personnel managers to discuss parental support measures can help the organisation to rise above the competition during recruiting efforts and to build a staff of talented employees dedicated to the leaders that supported them in their time of adjustment.
Head of Training and Development