I returned from parental leave during a pandemic and my company got it right
By: Chloe Rolph
May 5, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 mins
Let’s go ahead and add “returning from parental leave” as another experience in the world of parenthood that isn’t talked about enough.
Instead of assuming everyone picks up where they left off without a hitch, I’ll wager a different guess: as parents, we don’t talk about the difficulties of rejoining the working world because we’re scared. Scared of admitting we can’t do it all. Scared of derailing our careers and falling behind our colleagues. Scared of talking about mental health. Scared of appearing like we don’t have our shit together. It isn’t talked about enough, so I’m going to talk about it today.
I came back from my 15-month maternity leave in September 2020 and to say everything changed is an understatement. While our industry is always evolving, the pandemic only accelerated that change. For one, like most teams, Stryve had shifted to remote work. With that came new systems and processes I needed to learn while brushing up on the ones that stayed the same. Apart from new ad platforms and workflows, there were new team members to meet and new dynamics to get used to.
While things at work were different, the scale of that change was nothing compared to the changes in my own life. On June 28th, 2019, I was prepared to meet someone new. But when the day finally came, I actually met two new people: my son and a forever-changed me. That’s the version of myself that rejoined Stryve 15 months later. The new me had a lot of fears, a whole new mental load, and a physiologically altered brain optimized to keep a tiny, unpredictable human alive — not to increase click-through rates.
As I prepare to take my second maternity leave and meet yet another new face, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the past 8 months. While getting back to work was difficult, Stryve has played a huge role in not only making this time in my life survivable but frankly, pretty wonderful.
So, how can other businesses do the same?
Set expectations with all parties
As I stepped into my new role as a parent, I assumed a completely new identity. Coming back meant transitioning once again, this time to being a working parent. On top of that, this September marks my ten-year Stryversary, adding an extra element of self-applied pressure to perform at a high level.
But before those feelings had a chance to take control, my team was there to express their understanding. Proactively, they told me to take it slow. I was told to dip my toe into the work rather than dive in headfirst. Just wade. Tell us when you’re ready to start swimming. It wasn’t lip-service, either. Management communicated my situation with the rest of the team so those who hadn’t experienced it themselves could empathize. As a result, I received support from the entire team and was given the space to settle in at my own pace, guilt-free.
The flexibility to parent (or just do what you gotta do!) during the pandemic
Between multiple daycare shutdowns and extra toddler sick days due to strictness with symptoms, I’ve needed a lot of flexibility in my schedule. But because Stryve has been vocal in their understanding, I never had to ask for it or feel bad about it. Stryve’s culture has always been based on trusting employees to manage their workload while doin’ what they gotta do, whether it’s running errands or rescuing a dinosaur from the toilet between calls. During the pandemic, we even rebranded sick days to Wellness Days to destigmatize the need for last-minute time off, whatever the reason.
Extra financial support during transition times
Stryve offers a generous 6-week top-up to 100% salary during a Stryver’s first weeks of maternity or parental leave. For a company of our size, that’s almost unheard of. That meant my partner could afford to stay home for those precious first weeks as we adjusted to our new life as a family of three. We were so grateful to have that sleepy, chaotic, yet totally lovely time together.
Fast forward to my return, and Stryve was there for us again. Daycare is expensive. Infant daycare stings the wallet even more. That’s why Stryve offers a $500/month parental benefit to supplement the increased cost of infant daycare until age 18 months. While of course, it helps the parents, it’s beneficial to the company, too. Many parents stay home for an extended period of time to avoid the burden of this expense. The benefit creates a win-win situation, incentivizing and enabling the employee to return sooner.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Stryve understands every family has different needs, so this taxable benefit can be used for any child-related expense.
Dedicated mental health support
This one isn’t just for parents, but everyone at Stryve. When we redesigned our health benefits plan a couple of years ago, mental health became a top priority. There’s a minimum of $1000 available to every Stryver each year for counselling over and above our regular plan, and that’s available whether you’re working or on leave. This initiative doesn’t just help Stryvers access mental health services, it helps break the stigma surrounding the treatment of mental health. It sends a message to the team that it’s a priority for the organization and Stryve wants everyone to make it a priority for themselves, too. Especially during life’s biggest moments and transitions.
Now let’s make it better, for everyone
From Disco(nnect)-Fridays to encouraged stay-home sick policies, Stryve has always done a great job of prioritizing the team’s wellbeing—children or no children. As I reflect on my maternity leave and time rejoining the team, I feel really lucky to have gone through these life transitions with Stryve by my side.
At the same time, I’ve felt guilty. This level of support should be available to all parents. With that, I want to open the conversation: What is your organization doing to support working parents? Let’s learn from each other, borrow ideas, and make a really hard thing way less hard.