The parenthood transition can be conceptualized as a development stage, made by different challenging tasks, such as, (re)definition of identity and (re)definition of roles and values. This means that, one task parents will necessarily encounter is to find their place in the world (family, social and professional).
Returning to work after parental leave is a difficult developmental task that new parents have to face. It is therefore important that this challenge is addressed, even throughout pregnancy. In most cases, birth preparation classes are common and are established in the national health system. However, postpartum preparation classes are uncommon. Through these, people are given tools to help them plan and organize the return to work after parental leave, with special care being provided to those who had lengthier leaves.
Beyond individual factors, such as personality traits, physical and/or mental illness during pregnancy, birth trauma, postpartum depression, support figures that help the transitioning, family status, previous work satisfaction, and others, we find common challenges to this transition: fatigue management (that can be caused by sleep deprivation); difficulties related to breastfeeding conditions or with the use of milk pumping devices in the workplace; difficulties related with the child’s adaptation to the kindergarten, nanny or other caretakers; time management difficulties and on reducing the weekly number of work hours; fear of losing technical skills and felling guilty for leaving the baby to go to work.
Building on all of these challenges, the (lack of) comprehension on the part of the employer can either be a facilitator or, on the other hand, to harden even further the process of returning to work after the birth of a child.
The evidence, despite scarce, focuses specially on the mother’s return to work and shows that employers increase their chances of retaining employees as well as maximizing productivity on the long run, if they implement an array of support measures, specifically designed for this stage of the life cycle, such as, suggesting periodical mental health check-ups, additional flexibility regarding work schedules, prioritize and articulate health appointments and shorten work hours, in particular during the first months of the return to work.
With society’s ever growing demands, it’s crucial that employers and organizations take an active role in promoting it’s employees mental health. This sensitivity is particularly important during moments of transition, as in the case of pregnancy and returning to work. This stages that can be viewed as a stress and crisis factor, but also an opportunity for development, are influenced by the individual and couple characteristics, as well as the political, social and economical context in which the couple lives in, the laws that rule parenthood and workplace culture.
Thus, employers may have an important role in facilitating parents return to the workplace after their paternity leave. Work return planning, follow-up and support during the employees process of transitioning to parenthood, are exemples of practices that can be included as a differentiated service offered by organizations that care about its employees well-being and, as a consequence, may have a positive impact on productivity, engagement and work satisfaction.