“I’m pregnant.” “I’m struggling with fertility and about to start IVF, so I’ll need some more flexibility.” “My partner and I are waiting on an adoption, and I want to take parental leave when we get our match.” “I don’t have child care right now, so I’m hoping we can talk about changing up my work schedule.”

These are high stakes conversations for your employees. They’re also high stakes for your people managers and your bottom line. How your managers respond and navigate these critical moments could make or break employee satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and—ultimately—retention.

Even before the pandemic, 43% of women leave the workforce within one year of having a baby, and replacing an employee costs employers up to 213% of that employee’s salary. On top of this, 2020 has set women in the workplace back 32 years: according to this week’s job report, the percentage of American women working is the lowest it’s been since 1988.

Yet, in our session at The Conference Board Maternity to Elder Care virtual event led by an expert in training managers, Maven Career Coach Sara Daly-Padron, 67% of the HR and benefits leaders in the audience acknowledged they “don’t ever or don’t regularly” engage or train their managers.

At Maven, we hear this often and we’re determined to change this. We partner with leading companies to integrate manager training as a key component of return-to-work support to empower more parents and managers to feel confident through the critical period before, during, and after parental leave. If you’re talking about more paid leave or flexibility to retain more parents in your workforce, you need to add training your managers to this list.

To get you started, here are five tips for people managers from Maven Career Coach Sara Daly-Padron.

1. Three questions you should ask parents on their team at least once a month in 1:1 conversations:

1. How is your experience as a working parent evolving, particularly as the pandemic evolves? Or this week?

2. What is the #1 thing that would make your life more manageable right now?

3. How can I best support you?

These questions help employees open up about what their experiences & stresses are and give insight into the pressure points. It brings real-time intel to the organization on what is needed and helps solve the issues at the individual level.

2. Listen without interrupting.

This may seem like a basic trait for any manager but it needs to be reiterated. Empathic listening is especially critical in conversations with employees going through a transition to or from parental leave, or who is a caregiver. Give them space to voice concerns without feeling pressure to solve all of the issues. Acknowledge their points of view and show your support.

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3. Initiate hard conversations.

Use conversation starters to ask your employees what they may need directly, rather than waiting for them to come to you when a problem or situation has become overwhelming. For example:

  • “I know you’re anxious about parental leave. What can we do to make a plan and set expectations so that you feel better while you’re away?”
  • “How is virtual schooling affecting your family?”
  • “I appreciate that you’ve been open with me about your fertility treatments. How are you doing? Help me understand what support you might need right now.”

4. Don’t make a joke when your employee shares vulnerable news.

We hear from employees all the time that they are anxious about telling their boss they’re pregnant or their partner is pregnant. Often, they’ve turned to friends or experts like career coaches for tips to prepare and role play. Managers should do the same. Here’s what not to do to get this conversation right:

  • Don’t make a joke. It may feel like an easy ice-breaker but it never leaves your employee feeling good.
  • Do not ask if they plan to come back. This is the #1 thing we hear from employees that managers should not say or joke about in these conversations.  
  • Don’t make assumptions about their abilities to work or their interest in taking on new projects or responsibilities

5. Reach out to your peers and initiate manager roundtables.  

Openly discuss what the pain points are in different departments, gain peer support in developing solutions, and share tips or best practices you’ve found useful with others.

“My Maven Career Coach was awesome and really helped me navigate through some challenges at work. She was so empathetic and had really good tips for how to have tough conversations with my boss.”

- Maven member

Want more actionable tips to share with your people managers? Get Maven’s most-downloaded piece of content: Our Checklist for Managers with how to support employees before, during, and after parental leave.

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