Reimagine Reboarding for New Parents

  • Employee Engagement
Meredith Gallivan

It’s been two months since I returned to work after having my second child. Reboarding, the process someone goes through when coming back from an extended leave, isn’t discussed nearly as much the offboarding required to prepare for maternity and paternity leave.

While leaders and employees pour hours into transitioning work, upskilling other employees to cover in their absence, and organizing files, little preparation goes into the reboarding once the employee returns. My own reboarding experience opened my eyes to ways employers can improve the process for teams and employees.

Two Pregnancies, Two Different Experiences

My first pregnancy was in 2020. My pandemic baby arrived in late summer, and while nothing was normal in 2020, the offboarding process and my maternity leave were what I would call typical. When I returned to work, I had to balance working full-time and having my daughter home for six weeks while we waited for our daycare to have room for her. I was thankful my employer and team were understanding, and it helped that everyone else was at home and Zooming all day.

That being said, I still felt pressure to put in a 40-hour work week, even if that meant working late at night. I put part of this pressure on myself to catch up and come back like I hadn’t just had a baby. Despite working with a great team, I was territorial over my work and felt like I would have to fight to get my seat at the table back. While having time off to bond with my baby was amazing, I also felt like I was missing out on career opportunities and growth.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to fight for my job, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. 

Fast forward to 2023 — I started a new job here with ethOs and found out I was pregnant again a week later. Having been through it once, I kept waiting for the anxiety to creep in:

  • Will I fall behind in my career?
  • Will I even be needed after the baby gets here?
  • Will my projects come back to me?

The date our daycare told us our son could start did not line up with my return-to-work date, leaving us with another gap in childcare. When I shared this with my leader, she immediately told me to not spend any time worrying about it and that we would make it work. Knowing I had her support eased some of the anxiety I had about how this reboarding experience would be compared to last time around.

Returning to work this time turned out to be easier. Throughout my leave, I stayed in touch with my team. A few weeks before I was set to come back, I met with my leader. When I told her we would still have a few weeks without childcare, she simply told me, “we’ll take you for any amount of time you’re able to work, but don’t push yourself.”

Those first few weeks were hard — I was mentally ready to get to work, but without childcare, I couldn’t commit to much. Yet, I never once felt pressure to do more than I was able to.

Where to Begin With Reboarding

In today’s world, employees want to be treated as an individual who matters. They want to feel seen, valued, heard, and respected.

We also know that no two births or postpartum experiences are the same. New moms may experience similar things, such as hormonal mood swings, sleepless nights, increased hunger and thirst if breastfeeding/chestfeeding, recovery from delivery, and much more, but those experiences still differ from person to person. So, why do organizations continue to approach reboarding the same way?

Since every postpartum experience is different, the reboarding time may be different for each person. My recommendations are a starting point, but every company will need to figure out what works best for their organization, culture, and employees.

Phased Working Schedule

Rather than having an employee go from zero working hours a week to 40+ hours, consider a phased approach. Maybe it’s a few hours here and there the first week. Maybe it’s a part-time arrangement for the first month. It could even be a gradual ramp up to 40 hours over the course of a few months.

Flexible Work Arrangements

The pandemic taught us that working anywhere is possible. If your organization has an office space, consider allowing employees and leaders to decide when the employee can come in and when it’s okay to use a flexible work arrangement.

Communicate Expectations & Timelines

I would argue this is the most critical component. Between the leader, employee, team, and potentially clients, make sure everyone is on the same page about the reboarding program specific to each employee. That means setting the stage for expectations and timelines. If reboarding is part-time work for two weeks, clearly communicate available hours or days. Uncertainty, ambiguity, and lack of transparency will contribute towards mistrust or abuse of the program.

A Work Culture That Cares

Finally, one of the most important things any leader or organization can do is to build a culture where a new parent feels welcome and cared for.

I recognize that my experience is the direct result of the culture we’ve created at ethOs. At ethOs, we believe a positive and productive workplace culture starts with employee experiences, and that includes ensuring employees returning from leave have the support they need to succeed.

Are you interested in talking more about enhancing your workplace culture and employee experience? The ethOs team is here to help. Just reach out and let’s talk!

June 17, 2024