What (Not) to Say When Navigating Parental Leave

To retain employees, managers should conduct conversations before, during, and after parental leave with care.

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While welcoming a child into the world is one of the greatest experiences most parents ever have, for organizations it can be a time fraught with fears and sensitivities. If managers aren’t mindful, an employee might choose not to return once their parental leave ends — but managers have much more influence over this decision than they realize.

Mothers and fathers of young kids are overwhelmingly choosing to stay in the workforce. But in such a strong job market, they have choices as to where to work. Surveys have found that they’re more likely to work at organizations where they feel they’re getting adequate support.

In my work with companies to support employees through the parental leave process, I’ve seen the pitfalls. It’s far too easy to say or do the wrong thing, damaging relationships with these employees and their team members. Here are some things that I teach managers to say — and to never say.

The Initial Conversation

The opportunity to establish the right tone begins the moment an employee informs you that they’re expecting a child. The employee needs to know that they’ll be supported and respected — not asked to prove their loyalty to the organization.

You should not ask how much time the employee plans to take off. Instead, operate on the assumption that the employee will take the full leave that they are entitled to, and plan around it. Express excitement and support. Say something like, “Congratulations — that’s wonderful! We’re here to help you through this process.”

The opportunity to establish the right tone begins the moment an employee informs you that they’re expecting a child.

Go over the benefits that your company offers, including how much leave is available and how much of it is paid. You should also review any paid family leave programs in your state that apply. Make sure the employee is aware of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires companies with 50 or more employees to offer unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption, and other care-related scenarios. Studies have found that many people are confused about what paid parental leave policies they have access to. In a survey, 18.6% of respondents said they were unaware whether they had


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