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4 Tips for a Successful Parental Leave From a People Leader

This post was originally published as a guest article on Fairygodboss.


It’s only been four months since I went on parental leave from my role as EVP of People at Heap, but a lot has changed.

For starters, I now have a baby! And since I left, a new CEO and 50+ new team members have joined Heap. Luckily for me, Heap is a company that supports new parents, from policies that prioritize parents’ needs to coworkers that respect my time blocks for childcare (including bedtime routines).

It has been approximately 25 years since the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandated maternity leave for birthing mothers. However, in 2012 only 40% of working women had access to maternity leave protection.

We obviously still have a ways to go, but Heap wants to be at the forefront of supporting parents. To do so, we offer many benefits for which I’m personally grateful. These include:

  • An incredibly generous four months of maternity leave, along with a two-week part-time re-entry period.
  • A virtual-first way of working, which offers the flexibility to work from anywhere. (This one has been very helpful for me since my mother’s room is also my home office, and everyone has been understanding when sometimes I need to turn my camera off.)
  • A virtual-first stipend that we can use for food delivery, childcare, and more. My first grocery bill was paid for with this stipend!

With policies like these, I believe that working mothers have a chance to be all that they aspire to be, and I am proud of what we are doing at Heap. Visit our Careers page to find out more about the benefits that we offer at Heap.

In the last few months, I've become intimately familiar with our leave policies and the ins and outs of being a working parent. From this experience, I've collected some advice that may help other working parents who are preparing for parental leave.

Four tips for a smooth parental leave (and return!)

1. Prepare for parental leave eight weeks ahead of time.

Put together an offboarding plan for yourself at least eight weeks before your due date and socialize it. Be very clear on accountable owners and their roles/responsibilities for each workstream and spend time preparing each of the owners. Babies have their own sense of timing, so it pays to be prepared!

2. Consider how (or if!) you want to communicate while on parental leave.

Do not commit to any particular mode of communication before going out on leave. Instead, do what feels right after you have your baby. For some, that may mean fully disconnecting and, for others, that means keeping a pulse on ongoing projects.

Personally, I did not check Slack or my Heap email for four months. However, I stayed very connected through text, phone calls, and my personal email, keeping in touch on a weekly basis. This is what worked for me; it enabled me to ensure that my team felt supported even when I wasn’t there.

3. Take the time to participate in reboarding when you return.

Reboarding from maternity leave is just as important as onboarding a new hire. It should be intentional. Take time to reconnect with both old and new team members. Then meet with your team to get updates, digest, learn, and reprioritize before you run. As part of my reboarding, I also met with each member of the leadership team to get high-level updates.

At Heap, we have a two-week part-time schedule that allows for reboarding. I used this time to run some tests of my own to see what would work when I was back full-time. For example, I really wanted to try to nurse Emma (with the camera off, of course!) while in meetings.

After experimenting, I figured out how I could make this work. Another helpful resource to use when reboarding are your fellow parents. Heap enables us to connect via a Parents Slack channel, as well as a Hellos/Goodbyes channel, where we can announce when we’re leaving and when we’re back in the office.

4. Talk to your manager throughout the process.

As a part of supporting new parents, managers should make sure that they set aside time to talk with new parents and understand what they need to ease back into work life. At Heap, we do just that, and it really helps new parents adjust. I encourage other companies to empower their managers to do the same.

In addition to these tips, during your parental leave, remember that things won't always go quite as planned. However, you can use any mishaps to learn, make changes and improve in the future!