Will the Best Talent Want to Come Back to Your Team? 3 Questions to Find Out - balancenow

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Will the Best Talent Want to Come Back to Your Team? 3 Questions to Find Out

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  • 13 April
  • by Susan Jansen
  • Transition

This is part 5 of 8 in Balance Now’s #turntalk2action series. Each post shares what works in a specific phase of the employee lifecycle. The focus of this post in on parental leave and flexibility. 

QUESTION 1 – Do you have paid parental leave for men?  If so, how high is the take up?

More companies are offering paid parental leave in Australia than ever before.  Unfortunately, only 5-8% of this leave is being taken by male primary carers.

We know we need more men taking on the primary carer role at home to get more women into leadership roles in Australia. Yet gender stereotypes run deep, for both men and women, and they are holding us all back. Just as we penalise women who don’t conform to the “nurturing” stereotype, we also judge men who take on the caring role as “too soft” or “not providing”.

This is in spite of all the data showing families who share caring and household duties do better TED Talk – Michael Kimmel

So does anyone get it right?

Yes. Iceland. Of course.

Icelandic parents can split nine months of paid leave. Both parents get three months and then it’s up to the couple to decide how they’ll split the remaining three months. Neither parent can transfer any portion of their three-month share, as the government wants to ensure both parents can work and that kids get to spend time with both.  Each parent receives 80% of their salary while on leave.

Who does it well in Australia?

REA Group offers six months’ parental leave at full pay, as well as 13 weeks for secondary carers and continued superannuation payments for up to 12 months.

Medibank offers 14 weeks paid leave to both primary and secondary carers.

Salesforce allows primary caregivers can take 26 weeks paid time off and secondary caregivers can take 12 weeks paid time off

Aurizon ‘Shared Care’ program means fathers are entitled to 50% pay up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

We know from experience, the best policy in the world won’t deliver change in isolation.  Change only comes when we are able break away from the gender stereotypes influencing decisions in Australian households and workplaces.  While this feels overwhelming, we can all contribute in small ways.  An easy example is taking every opportunity to reach out and praise men for taking on caring roles and women for blazing trails in leadership.

Both are lonely, courageous choices and need our encouragement.

QUESTION 2 – Do you have a structured and inspiring return to work program? Does it take the burden off stressed out new parents?

As one of the few senior female leaders in Financial Markets (and with 2 kids under 5), many of my male colleagues directed pregnant team members to me for advice before they went on leave.  I must have had over a hundred conversations over the years and still feel both haunted and privileged when I think about the stories. Surprisingly, I found most women weren’t stressed about becoming parents, they were stressed about how to manage work while being a parent. They fell into two camps:

CAMP 1 – “I want to come straight back to work, lock in my date now”.

This group were afraid of being replaced or forgotten and that their careers were over.

CAMP 2 – “I’m checking out of my career up front because I want to be a good Mum”.

This group believe that it’s not possible to be a good Mum AND have a career.

At first I thought those in Camp 1 were being too fearful and cynical.  That was until I met Michelle.  Michelle came to me at the end of  her 2nd pregnancy and shared her story of her first maternity leave experience. Michelle was a top sales performer with great client relationships.  After preparing a diligent handover and careful client communications, she was confident of coming back to a smooth transition.


A few months into her leave, Michelle found out her colleagues had carved up her client portfolio behind her back.  They had effectively cherry picked the best ones and taken them on to ensure they were “looked after”.  Upon her return, all of her clients (except the unprofitable high-maintenance ones) had been permanently reassigned.


So in addition to learning how to juggle work and motherhood, Michelle also had to face an unattainable and unfair revenue target with no clients. Awful, right? But it came as a good wakeup call for me on what happens when periods of extended leave aren’t managed well.

I found Camp 2 women tougher to reassure.  Underneath the decision to check out are some deeply held assumptions about good mothers and careers being mutually exclusive.  The secret with this group was to assign mentors and sponsors.  It was about building confidence that they could achieve both personal and professional goals.

Here are some tips on what the best return to work packages include:

  • Access to confidential executive coaching program
  • Selection of defined, documented phase back options
  • Guarantee of a meaningful role
  • Keep-in-touch strategy for preparation, during and post leave
  • New parent support groups
  • Real flexibility for all embedded in leadership culture
  • Annual vouchers for both wellbeing and emergency childcare and (ideally) on-site childcare
  • Return to work bonus
  • Access to company concierge and wellbeing programs

We love what Xero are doing in this space. Other organisations offering innovative solutions we admire are Grace Papers and Circle In

Leaders need to bring the solutions to life.  If you only remember one thing, let it be that the effort in making this happen lies with the leader/organisation, not the new parent!

QUESTION THREE:  Does your team regularly give feedback about how flexibility and empowerment are changing their lives?

Weirdly enough, one of my most motivating experiences in returning to work came from one of my least favourite bosses. It happened when I returned from leave with my second child Felix a.k.a. “the wild one”.  It was a busy, demanding job and I loved it.  Out of the blue, a couple of months after I’d returned, my boss approached me and said:

“Susan I see you working hard and delivering the outcomes of someone working full-time.  How would you feel about keeping your Wednesdays off but moving from 80% to 100% pay”


It was the most motivating experience. To be approached rather than to have to ask, to see your work recognised when things are so chaotic at home.  Almost a decade later I can still remember exactly where we were sitting and the feeling it left me with.

Most clients we see have a generous and well thought out policy, yet the variation in success is enormous. What we learned is that leaders, just like the one in my example, bring flexibility to life.  Not policies.  They do it by being proactive, by showing interest in the whole person, by working flexibly themselves and by rewarding outcomes not inputs.

The best example of this is we have seen is a current client of ours in the engineering industry.  I had a call with Greg, the CEO, and his executive team this morning.  Greg started the call by saying he was working from Stradbroke Island for the week as he wanted to refresh his perspective.  Greg’s actions, rather than his words, gave permission and validation to his team that flexibility is a good thing.

In summary

We hope you scored 3 out of 3 and have some food for thought from this post.   Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to know more about how we could help you.

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