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Retaining New Parents in an Ongoing Pandemic

February 9, 2022

For working parents, the decision to leave a job – or stay – is complicated. In many cases, that difficult decision comes down to a fundamental factor: employer support and flexibility.

Being a working parent with a new baby is tough – and it’s even tougher during a pandemic. From daycare closures to sick kiddos to sleepless nights, the list could go on. Put simply, new parents are in survival mode. 

But let’s start from the beginning. 

Those first few weeks with a newborn baby are filled with questions. Why won’t they sleep? What does that cough mean? Should I call the pediatrician? Then, when it comes time to return to work, a new slew of questions arises. Will my baby do okay with daycare? How will I adjust and balance it all? 

Cut to … the first week back. Your baby does surprisingly well at daycare – and you survive the first day of drop-off. But then, your baby catches a cold and must be home. The next week, their classroom shuts down due to COVID-19. 

In a pandemic-free world, it’s already challenging for many new parents to return to work and find balance. With an ongoing pandemic, returning to work can easily lead to unmanageable stress and burnout. In fact, in about half of U.S. families, one or both parents left the workforce or scaled back at work to care for children during the pandemic. That’s more than 3 million parents who left the workforce since spring of 2020.

Taking the time to understand what your colleagues are going through, providing support and flexibility, could be the difference between talent lost and talent retained. It could even make or break the decision of prospective employees to choose your company over another as parents who left the workforce consider reentry. 

So, what can you do? Here are a few basic ways you can make it easier for new parents as they return to work:

  • Hold leaders and managers accountable. It’s important for new parents to find adequate coverage while they’re out – and they shouldn’t have to do it alone. For me, my manager and team lead were fully invested in a stress-free exit. They made time to meet and share feedback on my plan – and helped coordinate staffing conversations.
  • Welcome new parents back. Make the team aware that a new parent is returning and encourage time to connect. On my first day back, my manager made time for us to chat over lunch about not only workload and priorities, but also how I was doing. I received texts, IMs and emails from colleagues welcoming me back. It’s as easy as a quick note or 15-minute call to make new parents feel welcomed, valued and cared about. Make them feel like a priority.
  • Encourage meetups with other new parents. The good news is it’s likely that there’s someone else who has recently dealt with the same challenges of returning to work and has some wisdom to impart. I was able to meet with a few colleagues virtually to commiserate over our experiences and even get some hot tips for finding balance. In some instances, an organized group could also be helpful to new parents; at FleishmanHillard, we created a Parenting Employee Resource Group. Make your managers aware of resources like this to share with their new parents upon return.
  • Allow new boundaries and reinforce flexibility. For some, daycares close at 4:30 or 5 p.m., while others just might need the early evening hours to spend with their children before bedtime. Whatever the time or reason may be, setting new boundaries and taking advantage of flexibility options can be a lifesaver for new parents. If the work gets done right, your clients or customers are happy and it’s viable for your business to implement, then do away with rigid work schedules. Many of your employees, and their families, will appreciate it.
  • Revisit and recalibrate career goals. Encourage managers and new parents to sync on their goals upon return. Revisiting goals can help both the employee and manager reset and stay on the right path. It may also be beneficial to debrief on what went well and what didn’t during their transition to continuously learn and improve the experience for other new parents.

As a new mom, I feel fortunate. Working at a Top Company for Executive Women, my transition back to work has been easy thanks to colleagues who understand, an engaged and supportive manager, and flexibility where it counts. None of which cost any money but can make all the difference. 

While employers cannot remove the burdens and unexpected obstacles that come with a pandemic, it’s the simple things companies can do to move parents from a state of survival mode to meaningful work-life balance.