Navigating career transitions – Coaching for parental leave returners
Returning to work after becoming a parent is a particularly challenging career transition – having the benefit of coaching upon return from parental leave can have a hugely positive impact on a returner’s future career.
It is possible that the end goal would be the same, with or without the help of transition coaching. However, having this type of support available often cuts the progression time by several years or can be a key reason for a parental returner getting the role or promotion they have dreamt of. Enabling employees to access coaching is even more important in organisations with a long history and defined culture, where cultural norms might discourage seeking support or where development programmes might be seen as a remedial option for poor performance. Transition coaching can bring many benefits to an employee returning from maternity or paternity leave, but also for their employer.
Coaching can help navigate through career transitions
When navigating change and transitions, even the most confident leaders notice their confidence go down. The combination of uncertainty and new experiences gained along the way often leads career returners to question their identity and values. This is particularly relevant for employees going through changes as profound as returning from parental leave. Transitioning back into a changed workplace with new responsibilities at home can be frightening, but it can also be an opportunity for learning and re-evaluation for the returning employees. My years of experience coaching parental returners have highlighted how access to a reflective space, such as coaching, can support maternity and paternity returners and provide the perspective necessary to think about one’s ambitions and career development.
Building back confidence in parental returners
From my experience as a coach, I have found that building back confidence is one of the most common topics that parental returners bring to a coaching space. It may be confidence in one's ability to do the job after a period of being away, to ask for extra time in the manager's busy diary to support them through the transition, or to apply for a promotion despite having the right skills, now that the need to pick up a child from childcare requires their colleagues and employer to be more flexible. It is also about having confidence when returning to a work environment that has changed completely while being away, in particular in present times with the ongoing changes in working practices due to the covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, it’s mainly about confidence of believing in oneself with this new responsibility of caring for a child in parallel with fulfilling their professional ambitions.
Developing and retaining talent in organisations
While coaching through career transitions helps a returning employee gain their confidence back more quickly, it also benefits the organisation through increased engagement and performance. Leadership coaching offers a space to rediscover one's professional identity and the value one brings to their organisation. It can help a career returner recognise the learning, experience and new transferable skills gained while on parental leave. The transferable skills from parenthood into leadership are many: active listening, delegation, problem solving, creativity, resilience, and many more. The coaching space also gives an opportunity for a parental returner to investigate what they need to perform at their best and reconnect with their motivation and purpose.
However, employee development is just one of the many benefits that transition coaching brings. Employers who recognise that parental leave returners may need some guidance upon their return to live up to their full potential, show a commitment to people development. This in turn strengthens employee loyalty and increases retention of vital talent. Talent retention could not be more relevant now in the current state of ‘the Great Resignation’, with burnout caused by the pandemic prompting employees to re-evaluate their options. The flexibility of a coaching partnership allows one to explore both how to best manage the return to work and one’s own wellbeing. My experience tells me that people who use their potential at work are happier and more satisfied with life, resulting in higher creativity and more positive energy to bring home after a productive workday. When an employee can show up and deliver at work while maintaining a balanced family life, everyone's a winner.