How 3 companies are helping employees on their parenting journey

Before Joanne Abate told her manager more than two decades ago that she was pregnant, she was nervous about the conversation and what it would mean for her career.

“When I had my child 23 years ago, I was really, really fearful to tell my manager I was going to be out,” Unum’s assistant vice president of global benefits and insurance said last week, speaking at the National Business Group on Health’s Workforce Strategy conference in San Diego. “We are so far past that now. [Employers] are taking away that fear [of taking parental leave], but we’re also talking to workers about how they can do it.”

Today, a growing number of employers not only provide generous time-off policies for new parents, but they also help employees transition back to work after the child’s arrival and continue to assist them throughout the parenting journey.

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Abate joined benefits managers at Buzzfeed and SAP to speak on how they are helping employees’  growing pains in parenthood.

“Parenting is a defining moment for employees. Anyone who becomes a parent knows it’s life-changing,” said Jason Russell, director of North America total rewards at SAP America. “So we think about, as an employer, how we help them become better parents and better employees.”

The three companies each said their efforts are helped by a technology platform that meets parents—and expecting parents—where they are and helps address specific concerns and problems.

Last year, SAP partnered with digital behavioral health company Cognoa and rolled out the Cognoa app for its 19,000 North American employees. Cognoa aims to help children reach their full potential— socially, emotionally and developmentally—by providing employees with clinically validated and personalized resources to assess, track and support their child’s unique developmental growth.

“When parents don’t get help, [many] make a decision that they won’t work anymore,” Russell said. “If you get the right resources, the right support, you’re able to better juggle the demands.”

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With the Cognoa app, parents can screen for delays in speech, language, behavior and cognitive abilities—as well as identify early signs of more significant delay, including autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—in children as young as 18 months old. Parents can then share the information with their pediatricians to expedite earlier diagnosis and treatment, Cognoa claims.

Employees can also use Cognoa to assess and track their child’s development and receive a personalized roadmap that includes research-based activities to encourage progress and optimum growth. About 1,500 employees have used the app so far, Russell said.

“We see a real value in that we’re getting people focused on the job more, empowering them to be the best parents they can be,” Russell said, explaining that SAP also hosts workplace sessions about how to be effective parents and balance demands. “It’s really driving home what it means to be a parent in the workplace and why it’s OK to be a parent on the job.”

Unum, meanwhile, “started on [a] parental journey about three years ago,” Abate said. “We were looking at our demographics, we’re about 67% female … and we were discovering we had mothers who were rising leaders in our organization and were trying to have a family and do all the things they needed to do outside their work and try to bring that into work. We needed to really address how they were going to have children and take a leave from work and how we could support that as best we could.”

At about the same time, the insurance company purchased LeaveLogic—a leave management technology provider—and made it available for employees.

“We were really building a model for parental leave,” she said. “We want to make sure we are planning up front, transitioning and welcoming them back after leave. LeaveLogic is really that fundamental piece that helps them navigate that.”

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And in 2018, Unum rolled out a six-week paid parental leave policy, making new moms and dads employed at the company eligible for six weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn, or a child placed through adoption or foster care, at any time during the 12 months following birth, adoption or fostering.

Buzzfeed, a content hub and workplace popular with millennials, was spurred to rethink parenting benefits because of the growing number of its workers who are starting families.

“We have a lot of millennials walking into parenting, and we didn’t want them to feel alone,” said Hannah Wilkowski, global benefits manager at Buzzfeed. Late last year, the company boosted its paid time off for new moms to 18 weeks from 16 weeks. It also partnered with Maven, a platform that lets employees access benefits surrounding fertility, maternity, adoption and return to work, as well as a variety of parenting resources.

“[It really is] a haven for people who are going through parenting for the first time, second time, or if they’re exploring adoption—really wherever they are in their journey,” Wilkowski said, explaining it can also help employees whose partners might be going through IVF or similar experiences.

It’s available for employees from the time they are trying to have a child up until the baby is 6 months old, Wilkowski said. Resources include prenatal services—including access to nutritionists, doulas and career coaches—and post-baby services including sleep coaches, lactation consultants and return-to-work coaches.

“These resources are right there at their fingertips,” she said. “They can talk to counselors when they need to, pretty much on the hour.”

Since Buzzfeed implemented Maven, it has seen 47 births throughout the company; 31 of them used Maven, Wilkowski said. “All feedback has been positive,” she said, “and most of it has been word of mouth, parents telling other parents about this offering.”

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Supporting employees on their parenting journey is not only good for employees, but it’s beneficial for employers, the panelists said.

“The support we are providing … it changes the whole dynamic,” Unum’s Abate said. “To know she has a plan, she’s going on leave, I’m not worried about her, and I’m giving her an avenue to come back, that many of us didn’t have. It’s really nice to see that support for our employees and encourage them to take the time they need with their family and then say, ‘We want you to come back.’ That welcoming piece has been missing a long time.”

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