Your organisation may already have policies in place to assist mothers returning to work after Maternity Leave, but these may not always have been designed with Parental Leave for fathers in mind. This module provides guidance to help you support fathers to comfortably reintegrate back into the workplace after a period of caring leave.
Why is it important to support working fathers?
Before the leave begins
Preparation for the employee’s return to work should begin before leave is taken by conducting a pre-leave review. This review needs to be undertaken in a supportive way including a discussion on issues relating to pay and bonuses. There should be reassurance that the career prospects of soon-to-be fathers will not be detrimentally affected by the period of leave. Just as you would with mothers taking Maternity or Adoption Leave, make sure that the father is assured of their rights and feels supported.
Checklist of pre-leave actions
Outline the variety of policies available, including the different forms of parental leave and flexible working
If your organisation uses one, open a Parenting Passport for the parent, and explain how it works.
Reassure them that asking for SPL or other Parental Leave is perfectly fine and support their choice.
Explain their rights and support offered under the policies you have. Talk through the options they should consider when they return, for example; to full or part-time work; the possibility of flexible hours; a phased return, etc. Also, discuss ongoing benefits available such as childcare vouchers.
Confirm proposed leave dates dates to enable preparation for any handover meetings with appropriate colleagues and planning for cover of their period(s) of leave.
If the father is client-facing, inform clients of who will be their new point of contact and inform the parent of who will be handling their clients while they are on leave.
Encourage contact with any Parenting Groups within the organisation or externally and if there is a buddy system in place within the organisation (outlined in Communications module), direct the parent-to-be to this so they can ask any questions.
When the employee is leaving, celebrate with them – this will not only make them feel supported, it will also help spread the word of SPL within the organisation and emphasise that it is something management encourage. Of course, this must all be with the employee’s consent.
Those taking maternity, Adoption Leave, Parental Leave or SPL remain employees. Make sure that they are kept informed of any changes to buildings, processes or personnel that may affect them.
Pay particular attention to IT – ensuring that passwords and access to systems are restored by the time the parent returns to the workplace.
Put in place a Back to Work Plan, including SPLiT days and Phased Return policies, if appropriate. Parents returning from SPL in particular may feel worried about how they will be received on their return as it is not yet a common occurrence. HR and Line Managers can play a key role in reassuring them that their return to work will be handled carefully.
To help with designing a pre-leave set of actions, we have produced a template of possible action points.
During Leave: Shared Parental Leave In Touch (SPLIT) days
SPLIT days, where employees may return to work during their leave are optional, and need to be agreed between employee and employer. Whilst on leave, employees need to be kept informed of any key things that impact on their job, but how this is done should be agreed on a case-by-case basis. Discuss with the employee the extent to which they want informal contact. Some parents may want to be kept in the loop on desk moves, big events and even office gossip whilst others may want to turn work off completely.
Alongside any formal SPLIT days the odd email or phone call (if agreed) can also be a good way to let people know they are still a valued employee particularly as they get closer to the date of return. Things may have changed for them and they may want to make changes to the way their return is managed. (For example, they might need to revise their previous hours of work).
Back to Work Plan: The Workplace
Before the father returns to workplace, ensure that the returning employee has all necessary workstation equipment and logins, and that all building access passes etc. are up to date prior to their first day back at work. With the employees knowledge, arrange for them to have any training they may have missed. Also, arrange for them to be enrolled in any specialised coaching or mentoring that is available (if applicable) within your organisation.
Upon returning to work, ensure a personal welcome from the father’s line manager which should include a discussion on issues relating to terms and conditions including pay, bonuses and career prospects. There should be a reassurance that the organisation recognises that their role as a parent has not finished with their Parental Leave. Furthermore, be ready to allay any unfounded feelings of guilt about others back-filling their roles during a period of leave. This re-induction to the workplace is also an opportunity to introduce any new team members that they may encounter and help to give the father an idea of any other changes that have taken place while they have been away. This might include:
Examples of possible changes to discuss
Has their desk changed/ been moved?
Is there new equipment that they need to be updated on?
Have any procedures changed that they need to be aware of?
Has their line manager changed?
Is there dedicated space that can be used in the workplace for things like storing milk and expressing?
Are there any upcoming work events they need to know about (e.g., casual Fridays)?
Have they been told about the flexible working policies available since their return?
Have there been any changes in how their role works?
If your organisation uses one, make the employee aware that they can ask for a meeting to revise their parenting passport.
Are they aware of any parenting groups run within the organisation?
Are they aware of policies around Unpaid Parental Leave and time off for family and dependents?
Juggling returning to work with a new child at home can be difficult, so be sensitive to their practical needs (for example avoid late meetings which might clash with childcare pick up times) and also their need to redevelop contacts and get back into the swing of working.
Back to Work Plan: Phased Returns
Some parents may benefit from a phased return back to work. With SPL in particular, parents may be returning to work at the time that their child is beginning to transition into nursery care, and this can make the return process difficult logistically and emotionally.
A phased return plan can be agreed before the employee has left for Parental Leave, but (if the employee is willing) it is worth reviewing the plan at the SPLiT days or other points of contact to ensure that their needs haven’t changed.
A phased return could involve reduced hours for a settling back in period, for example. Employers are not legally obliged to offer these types of adjustment but it is considered good practice if they are able to do so. Such accommodations can have an extremely positive impact on the employee’s re-integration into the workplace and their ability to balance their work and home commitments.
Whatever is decided, ensure that the employee’s line manager is informed.
Back to Work Plan: Getting back into the swing of things
Once the returner has had time to settle in – maybe after two weeks or a month – schedule a meeting with their line manager to review how things have gone and (if used) complete or review their Parenting Passport. As part of this process review the pre-leave discussions to see whether they may now have different needs, such as more flexible hours.
If the returner has taken SPL they may be an appropriate candidate to become a “Fatherhood Champion” whereby they agree to help promote the policy within the organisation.
You can find all of the materials mentioned in this and all other modules here.