Maternity Leave Today

Ok, so not actually today, but tomorrow! Tomorrow I will officially be starting my maternity leave from Salopek & Associate, and I have to say, it feels a bit bitter sweet! Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about the new full time job I am about to embark on and all the challenges ahead that being a new mother will present, but as I’ve spent the last few months preparing for my leave, it’s started to sink in that the Salopek I leave tomorrow won’t be the same Salopek I return to when I’m ready to come back to work – it will have grown and changed, as will have I.

That’s exciting – but it also makes me a little emotional and certainly brings up all the FOMO feelings. Since joining Salopek in 2012, it’s been an incredible six years of collaboration, hard work, excitement and the most inspiring moments of my professional career. Having the opportunity to work alongside Janet Salopek and the incredible team of HR Consultants that make up Salopek & Associates has provided an exceptional experience in terms of learning, development and just truly loving the people I work with. I’ve had the opportunity to work and grow a business with people who not only love what they do, but are the absolute best at it.

So, to step away from a team that is so incredible, a leader that is so inspiring, and a company that sets such high standards and is so aligned with my own values is hard! It’s emotional. And it got me thinking about why the recent changes to Maternity / Parental Leave in Alberta are so important.

Basically, the 2018 Employment Standards changes have extended the amount of maternity / parental leave available to employees who have worked with an organization for 90+ days, now providing 16 weeks of maternity leave (instead of 15) and 62 weeks of job protected parental leave (extended from 37). This offers a maximum total of 78 weeks of job protected leave starting just in time for my maternity leave to start!

While many professionals are wondering whether they should, or even want, to take advantage of the extended leave available – the flexibility it provides can’t be denied. Because, let’s be honest, does any parent REALLY know when they will be ready to return to work before they’ve welcomed a new baby into their lives? From everything I’ve been told, my life is about to be turned upside down, so what position am I in today to tell my employer I most certainly will be back in 6 months, a year or 78 weeks? In many people’s cases, we might just not know – and this new legislation gives employees the flexibility to decide what is right for them, their families, their careers and ultimately their employers.

An interesting thing I realized when giving my own maternity leave thought was, that while I personally intend to step away from Salopek for a year, employees are required to give written notice at least 6 weeks before starting maternity / parental leave but aren’t required to specify a return date. Once departed on their leave, employees are required to give employers at least 4 weeks notice before they return, or 4 weeks notice advising they won’t be returning before their leave ends. This means that employees today have the option to defer their decision on leave length until after they’ve had the opportunity to experience what being away from work is really like.

For some people, this option could make a big difference. I have peers and friends who expected to take a year off work and were chomping at the bit to get back to the office after 3 months. Others anticipated being ready to return to work after 6 months and when the time came realized they really weren’t ready. Some, after spending time at home with their babies, decided they loved their new full time job much more than the one they held outside of the household. My point is, the option of extended leave gives employees more time to really decide what works best for them.

But what about employers?! Well, I think, although at first glance this new flexibility might seem a bit scary for organizations to manage, it’s actually to their benefit. Providing job protected leave to employees, now for an extended period of time, is offering them the opportunity to decide if working for your organization is what they really want to be doing. Giving employees the opportunity take the time they need to prepare for returning to work means, when/if employees do return, they will feel ready, more engaged and grateful for the opportunity of time with their family. If they make the decision not to return, it saves the organization from bringing a disengaged employee back onto their team, which not only costs money in wages/salary but can also negatively impact your team and culture.

I think the maternity / parental leave conversation should be transparent and ongoing – so what is required from both Employees and Employers to make this work?

  • Employers should openly communicate the Employment Standards updates to employees and do so in a way that invites conversation. At the end of the day, if your employee really isn’t ready to come back to work after a year, do you really want to be paying them to return as an unengaged member of your team?
  • Employees should share with their employers the amount of time they anticipate they will want to take off from work. If you honestly don’t know – share that! And ensure your employer that you will provide at the very least the minimum 4 weeks notice required once you make your decision. Being honest with yourself and being considerate of the planning required by your employer is in everyone’s best interest, regardless of when or if you decide to return to work.
  • Organizations should give thought to their policies around maternity/ parental leave, and decide if topping up the EI provided during unpaid leave is aligned with their organizational values. Some companies will offer top up to full salary for a portion of an employee’s leave, which provides financial peace of mind during that time and may encourage employees to return to work following the paid leave period. This offer of paid leave acts as both a retention and attraction strategy, demonstrating a commitment to employee’s health & wellness and the value they have within an organization as a long term, engaged team member.
  • Employees should continue the leave conversation even after they have left. Keep in touch with your employer, pop in to show off your bundle of joy and let your boss know how you are doing. Being honest and transparent with your employer about your feelings on returning to work will allow them to plan accordingly, and provide you the time (less or more) you need to make the right decision for you, your family and career.

At the end of the day, organizations should want employees on their team who are engaged and excited to be at work. Whether these valuable employees take 6 months, a year or 78 weeks off of work really won’t make that much of a difference if they return to the workplace engaged and productive. Today, maternity / parental leave is an essential element of employee retention. If organizations want to retain their top employees, they need to communicate the long term value these employees have within the organization, providing support and assurance of job security. In return, employees who expect to return to jobs that are as fulfilling and plentiful in opportunity as when they left, need to be honest about their plans for leave and considerate of the planning required by their employers to accommodate their time away.

While professionally I will be taking a break, my maternity leave will still consist of frequent visits to the office and chats about the business. To me that isn’t work – it’s a part of my life I wouldn’t want to give up for any amount of time. I guess having the flexibility to continue these conversations and still be involved at some level in the business is one of the reasons my leave seems so much more sweet than bitter. Salopek is literally and figuratively family to me, and I’m very much looking forward to watching my family grow both at work and home over the coming year.

Want to chat more about the recent changes to maternity / parental leave in Alberta? Salopek & Associates is helping many organizations update their HR policies and practices to reflect new legislation – contact us to discuss what your organization needs to be doing to ensure compliance and communicate changes effectively to your team.

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