Returning to work after having a baby can be the most emotionally difficult transition a person will make in their lives. New research from Unum highlights some of these difficulties. Perhaps the most concerning finding is that 49% of new moms and 36% of new dads did not meet with their manager or HR department to discuss their leave benefits. Furthermore, 40% of those who did spent 30 minutes or less in the discussion.

During this vulnerable time, HR has an opportunity to foster a culture of empathy and help keep new parents engaged when they return. Meeting new parents’ needs can be accomplished by offering a strong benefits package and taking the time to meet with employees to help them truly understand all of their options.

According to Unum’s research there are three things new parents wish their companies would be more helpful about: paid leave, supporting pumping at work, and health benefits for mental health.

Paid leave

One of the benefits Unum’s research uncovered as most important to new parents’ is paid leave, but only 30% of these new parents’ employers offer it.

Having a baby is expensive. Not only do new parents have the known expenses of hospital bills, outfitting the nursery, and buying clothes, diapers, and more, the first few months of having a baby are full of expenses that can catch new parents off guard.

Add to those expenses the possibility of both parents being home without pay and the impending cost of childcare and it’s a perfect storm that can knock precarious emotional and financial stability off kilter. New parents being able to count on their paychecks while on leave reduces stress, and less stress means more engagement at work.

Support for pumping at work

According to the Unum study, 47% of new mothers said pumping at work was one of their biggest challenges. 

Exclusively breast fed babies are more protected from asthma, allergies, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also visit the doctor and hospital less frequently than formula fed babies. Healthy babies mean that parents can stay at work rather than having to take leave to tend to them.

In Unum’s study, only 17% of parents said their employer offers lactation rooms. Nursing mothers have to pump every 3 to 4 hours. HR can help foster a company culture that is supportive of mothers taking breaks to pump and, if a company doesn’t already have one, HR can lobby to create lactation rooms in which to do so. Plus, if you have over 50 employees in the US, it’s illegal not to.

Health benefits for mental health

Unum’s study found that 60% of moms and 40% of dads struggled with depression or anxiety after becoming new parents.

It’s not just lack of a paycheck that can throw mothers and fathers off after the birth of their child, postpartum depression is an all too common and serious threat as well. Postpartum depression can start even before the birth, and can last up to a year afterward for both mothers and fathers. Severe anxiety and panic attacks can occur with or without depression.

Providing resources for mental health is important for all employees, not just new parents, and increases employee engagement. The American Heart Association recently released a report called Mental Health, A Workplace Crisis which outlines seven pillars for creating a culture that nurtures mental health including:

  1. Leadership – Demonstrating visible actions to create a mental health friendly workplace.
  2. Policies and Environmental Support – Developing a plan for the company that is available for workers to read.
  3. Communication – Developing a plan to communicate frequently and clearly to the workforce about mental health policies, benefits, education resources, and more.
  4. Programs and Benefits – Offering medical and health packages for mental health.
  5. Engagement – Involving employees in workplace decision-making.
  6. Community Partnerships – Using partnerships to promote the objectives of the mental health plan.
  7. Reporting Outcomes – Collecting and analyzing data to improve the program.

For more information on the Heart Association’s strategies, download the free report.

How to get leadership to change

If a company doesn’t offer these key benefits to new parents and HR is having trouble getting buy-in from leadership, it could be that leadership isn’t seeing the connection between the cost of programs for new parents and results.

It’s possible for HR to bridge the gap between a company’s business strategy and their people strategy through plans like the Predictive Index’s Talent Optimization which uses quantitative data and analytics to prescribe methods for how to best manage a workforce. Once a foundation is laid for how to use what drives employees to increase retention and productivity, it can be easier for HR to obtain a budget for benefits programs.

An opportunity for HR

New parents need more support from their companies in order to remain engaged and even to be able to come back to work at all. From paid leave to supporting pumping at work to health benefits for mental health there are opportunities for HR to create an environment that is more family friendly. Above all else, HR needs to be there to discuss benefits available to new parents in detail. And if HR needs more motivation, just remember that if you don’t offer benefits to new parents your competitors will.