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How to Turn Your Parental Leave Into a Competitive Advantage

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May 9, 2022Personal Development Business Insights Guest Blog

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Planning for parental leave can feel overwhelming: the personal to-dos, maintaining your actual job, and putting together a strong coverage plan. In the midst of all of this, most soon-to-be parents approach coverage planning with a ho-hum attitude. They document their current role, assign out each task, and eagerly await the arrival of their baby. 

What we’ve realized after working with hundreds of employees as they welcome new babies is that - when done correctly - this moment in time can be a huge competitive advantage. Instead of viewing coverage planning as an annoying “to-do,” by reframing it as a fortunate opportunity for growth, with the help of Parentaly CEO and Founder Allison Whalen's expertise, you can set yourself up for maximum success.

Parentaly, a rapidly growing startup, is helping companies prepare their employees and teams to thrive during parental leave. Working with many of the biggest brands in tech and consumer such as Zoom, Best Buy, Snap, and Hunt Club, demand for Parentaly is skyrocketing. Allison Whalen, shares the 5 most important steps to take prior to taking parental leave.

 

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Here we’re sharing the five most important things you should do to turn your parental leave into your competitive advantage 

1. Think about your ideal future state BEFORE you dive into coverage planning

Everyone’s natural tendency is to immediately dive into coverage planning: looking at your current job and figuring out who will do what when you go on leave. But if you just focus on your current role then you’ll miss out on one of the best career opportunities of your entire life. This is a once - maybe twice - in a lifetime opportunity in front of you. You’re established in your role, trusted by your peers, respected by your manager. And you’re about to pause your job for a few months and return with the comfort of familiarity, and the upside of “starting fresh.”

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If you’re going to go through this entire exercise of winding down your work - why pick back up the things you don’t like or that are inefficient? Use this opportunity in front of you to do a strategic and thoughtful overhaul of your role. Think about what you want your job to look like in a year, and work backward from there. Ask yourself: 

  1. What are the things I’m doing today that I really don’t like, that I could eliminate or reduce? 
  2. What are the things that I would be SO excited to jump into when I’m back at work? 
  3. Who are the people or teams I’ve wanted to spend more time with? 

Anchor yourself in this future state and work backwards. With these goals in mind, build a coverage plan that both covers your work, but also sets the foundation to permanently sunset/transfer work you don’t want to pick back up and sets you up for success when you return. 

 

2. Do a performance review three months before your due date

Unless you just had an official performance review, we recommend every expecting employee request a formal review approximately three months before you go on leave. Virtually no company has this official policy - so you should advocate for this. Here’s why: 

  • Create a paper trail: You want to have official documentation of your work quality, substance of your role and manager’s perspective on career trajectory potential before you go on leave. This is especially important if your company goes through a reorg while you’re on leave (which happens WAY more often than you would expect) and suddenly you have a new manager when you return. 

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  • Make sure you aren’t skipped over for performance reviews: If your company’s standard performance review period is during your leave, most companies will simply skip your review. This could result in you missing out on promotion or salary increase opportunities. 
  • Avoid performance reviews at inopportune times: You want to avoid at all costs having a performance review during your leave or in the first three months that you’re back at work. It is a terrible feeling to return to work and receive a performance review, as your manager will be relying on their memory from a long time ago as they attempt to give you feedback. Even if your review is glowing, it’s extremely overwhelming to receive any type of career or performance feedback when you’re in “survival mode” trying to get your feet back underneath you.

3. Make a communication plan 

Most employers - and expecting parents - assume that when someone is on parental leave the best case scenario is to have the new parent focus entirely on the baby with no communication from work. Actually, what we find is that the overwhelming majority of new parents report back that they wanted some level of communication while they were on leave. This is a fairly personal decision, and highly nuanced, but in our experience working with 700+ new parents we’ve found that almost everyone wants to be contacted by work if the following occur: 

  1. There is a company reorganization (whether or not it impacts them)
  2. Their manager changes
  3. Someone on their team leaves
  4. There is a big shift in the strategy of the company 

In addition to these scenarios, we encourage all expecting employees to list out other things they want to be contacted about - and how. For example: a sales manager might call out that if a major deal is about to close and the team cannot find a critical piece of information, they can text her (not call). Someone in operations might want to be notified about the results of the strategic initiative they’ve been working on for a year that is being presented to the exec team when she is 10 weeks postpartum. 

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When creating your communication plan there are two critical guiding principles to consider: First, remember that sharing your opinion is not the same as actively working. Putting yourself in a position to have your voice heard while on leave - but not actually doing work - can feel empowering and reduce a lot of anxiety for new parents. Second, everything you put in your communications plan should be things that YOU want, not what you feel obligated to do. A thoughtful and specific communications plan can set everyone up for success and reduce a lot of anxiety for the expecting/new parent. 

 

4. Put a lot of work on pause

Most people think they have to cover every work stream when they go on leave. However, that’s usually not the optimal scenario. All of us do things that are inefficient and wasteful and that we should probably eliminate. And, when in a position where you don’t have any budget to bring in a temp, if you cover everything you do with the remaining team you will overburden everyone. Instead, we strongly encourage everyone to seriously pressure test what things absolutely must be done while you’re out, and what things could be paused. Ask yourself - if we just don’t do this for the next three months, how bad would it be? Usually you’ll be shocked at the answer: not that bad. 

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And when you return to work, take a hard look at everything you paused. Did it matter? If not, don’t pick it back up. 

That said - make sure your manager is on board with pausing any work so that you don’t return to a situation where you are being asked to “make up” for the missed work. 

 

5. Wind down a month in advance

We strongly recommend that everyone plans to switch to “reactive mode” the final four weeks before their (or their partner’s) due date. The baby could come at any point, and the cost of having NOT transitioned your work by then as compared to a month of less impactful work doesn’t even compare. It’s incredibly difficult to go on leave without a finalized coverage plan. So make sure that you are aligned with your manager to have your coverage plan done a month in advance, and spend that last month doing lower priority work and winding down. 

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Accelerated impact 

While it’s true that you won’t know exactly how you will feel after you have your baby and return to work - especially if this is your first child - we find that things really don’t fundamentally change that much. In other words: we rarely see people do a complete 180 or have sudden, unexpected realizations about their career and life goals after having a child. 

Instead, here is what we see all the time: People have a baby, and all of the things that already annoyed them become intolerable. People have a baby, and their ambitions increase - they no longer want to toil in inefficient tasks, they want to accelerate their impact. They refuse to spend time away from their babies doing work that isn’t meaningful. They want to scale back their hours, but ramp up their impact and results. 

So we encourage everyone to adapt this mindset when planning for parental leave. Take a long-term view, do an inventory of your career and what you truly want to get out of work. And build your coverage plan with that end goal in mind. When done correctly, you will be shocked how motivated you will feel when you return to work. 

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Interested in finding out how your company can provide parental leave planning support to improve your business and retain top talent?

The Parentaly program is a benefit offering designed to help expecting parents prepare for, take and return from parental leave; minimizing the stress and potential career regression for the employee and helping reduce the attrition risk and decrease in productivity for the employer. The program includes comprehensive pre-leave planning and return to work resources (checklists, templates, modules and best practices - all crowdsourced by hundreds of working parents) which are woven into a 1:1 or group coaching program. 

Parentaly is also excited to have recently joined forces with Hunt Club to accelerate awareness and adoption of equitable parental leave programs across organizations. Learn more about our strategic partnership.  

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Allison Whalen avatarAllison Whalen