As a HR professional, a question I have been asked many, many times over the years is, “Will my career be affected by me going on parental leave?”. Seems like such a simple question, right? The truth is there are so many parts to this question, like:
– how will the company view the person coming back from parental leave? Will they be willing to give the same level of responsibility to the new mum?
– how will the new mum view her own role in the company moving forward? Will she be required to start and finish at set times due to family responsibilities or can she work as required to complete set tasks?
– does the new mum actually want to return to full-time work or would she prefer a part-time role?
– how will her peers view her absence of work? ie will they view it as a disruption to the business, or will they try to support her transitioning back to the workforce?
And these questions are just the beginning! In an ideal world, the Company will prepare both the new mum for her return to work by keeping in contact with her whilst she’s on leave, and they will also prepare the rest of the team through open communication and be clear about roles and responsibilities moving forward. This way everyone is on the page, with no surprises, right? Well, that’s the way things should happen, but I have to say, this is often not the case.
In my experience, there are often so many things that go unsaid. The company is too scared to ask what the “mum” really wants – does she want the same level of responsibility or would she be happier to take a lesser role, still at the same level. The “mum” is often too scared to say what she really wants (that’s assuming she actually knows what she wants, because a lot of new mums have no idea what the “juggle” of home and work life really entails until it happens to them!). The “mum” has also worked so damn hard to get where she is, she doesn’t want to just give that up for fear that she’ll never get another role like that again!
So now you’re getting the idea that there’s so much to consider for all parties concerned, right ? So what should you do? Honestly, there is no easy answer and the outcomes really do depend on the parties involved. In my experience, there are some basics that you need to address:
– if you are unsure how much parental leave to take, request the full 12 months. In saying this, I would suggest you be open in your communication with your employer in that you are really unsure how much time you will want off, and that you will request the full 12 months with the understanding you can give one month’s notice (depending on your Company’s policy) in order to return from leave earlier
– be open in your communication with your employer whilst you are on leave. If you are sure that you would like to return on a part-time basis, say that. Be prepared to give suggestions in terms of how your role could be managed on a part-time basis. ie would you be prepared to job-share? Could some of your role be done by another person or dept on a permanent basis? Could you do some work from home? Etc.
– if you are requesting part-time work, be prepared to have your request rejected. The Company is not obligated to allow you to return to work on a part-time basis, however, they do have to provide reasonable business reasons in which case to reject such a request. In this case, perhaps you could suggest transitioning back to work where you return 3 days per week for the first 8 weeks, 4 days per week for the following 8 weeks, and then full-time after this. Perhaps you could even do some work from home?
So, back to the original question, “will my career be affected by me going on parental leave?”. The truth is, only you can answer this. We live in an age where you have all the power, opportunity and wisdom to choose your own destiny. Perhaps your career in your current Company will be affected by you taking parental leave. Quite honestly though, your career spans much more than any one Company. Don’t let fear control these decisions for you, and predetermine the outcome. You decide what you want in terms of family life and work life and how you’re going to balance the two. From there, rather than asking the question, you can tell others how going on parental leave will affect you, your family and your career.
I guess after all that, it really is simple after all.