Supporting new parents as they navigate their parental leave journeyBY Australian Retailers Association
Becoming a parent is arguably one of life’s most challenging transitions. With several new and unexpected demands, becoming a parent can be an emotional journey.
Transitioning from ‘worker’ to ‘working parent’ can be particularly tricky. The lead up to planning for parental leave is fraught with a large number of unknowns, and returning to work brings some new challenges.
When preparing for leave, being organised, and providing a handover is key. This process can be made significantly less stressful when an employer is actively involved. In the retail environment, this may mean ensuring shifts are covered in advance, and making sure that there is clear and consistent communication with staff regarding their existing and new roles.
Communication between a worker and their employer is essential. Managers can play a crucial part in ensuring that their team members continue to feel engaged and valued while on leave.
Transitioning Well's experience working with parents during the parental leave transition says that while spouse and family support is important, organisational support is vital. It helps to maximise mental and physical health of the individual worker, resulting in increased productivity, boosted staff morale, and higher levels of staff retention.
Given their experience and the anecdotal evidence, Transitioning Well strongly recommend having discussions early on, as this can help in developing a consistent and clear plan for both the worker and the business. Many workers aren’t aware that they have access to up to 10 days of paid ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days that can be used to help them stay connected to the workplace, and assist them in their return to work.
First-time mums, in particular, can struggle with transitioning back to work after parental leave. They may need to juggle childcare arrangements along with possible practical concerns such as breastfeeding/expressing, and may also be managing changes to their emotional and physical health.
Workers returning to the workforce after parental leave are entitled to request flexible working arrangements (i.e., modified working hours); however, the retail environment may struggle to accommodate these, given the nature of the business. Facing many unique challenges, retail employers often find it challenging to juggle complex rostering requirements and ad-hoc on-call systems, an obstacle to parents who may struggle to find childcare arrangements that cater to hours outside the standard ‘9-5’ workday.
Along with practical challenges, new parents often report a decline in physical and mental energy levels. Businesses must recognise the challenges faced by new parents as they transition back into the paid workforce, and encourage this group to be open about these challenges, and their genuine concerns around a viable work-life balance.
Businesses should initiate conversations and create an environment where new parent can feel comfortable sharing their experiences while remaining confident that they will retain their current status within the team.
If this transition back to work is not appropriately managed long-term, businesses risk lower staff retention rates, higher training costs for replacement staff, and lack of valuable knowledge and experience.
It is also important to consider their duty of care in ensuring that staff can create and manage a sustainable work-family balance.
Businesses can take some steps to support their workers during this transition period. Creating policies and procedures, and communicating these effectively to staff, and leading by example, can ‘normalise’ the parenting journey and encourage workers to share the mental and physical load.
Listen to staff and their needs, and explore how to create sustainable change. Flexible working hours are only one component of a bigger picture. Businesses can redistribute or redefine particular roles and tasks, and demonstrate that they value their team members, all of which can assist individual workers AND their employers effectively navigate the transition from a ‘worker’ to a ‘working parent.’
The retail sector has a real opportunity to demonstrate that they value this group of workers. Keeping the lines of dialogue open within a team, and acknowledging that new parents are facing a whole new world of challenges can go a long way in maintaining and valuing workers and what they bring to a business.
About Transitioning Well: Founded by Dr. Sarah Cotton and Justine Alter in 2011, Transitioning Well specialises in navigating life transitions in the workplace. Our team of national psychologists develop and promote best practice strategies and tailored solutions across the employment lifecycle. Visit www.transitioningwell.com.au
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Australian Retailers Association
Founded in 1903, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is Australia’s largest retail association representing Australia’s $310 billion sector, which employs more than 1.2 million people. As the retail industry’s peak representative body, the ARA works to ensure retail success by informing, protecting, advocating, educating and saving money for its 7,500 independent and national retail members throughout Australia. For more information, visit www.retail.org.au or call 1300 368 041.