Have you heard about the idea of a parental leave ramp-up policy? If not, it is high time! (And if you’ve used one or your employers has one in place, tell us about it in comments below!) These policies are, in my book, a brilliant and supportive way to make the transition back to work after having a baby less traumatic.
I am always advising new parents that managing expectations is key to a successful return. As with any other major life and identity change, the transition back from parental leave is a process and not a single event. Employers do well, then, to treat this period as such.
Today, I’m delighted to share with you an interview with Lillian Manning, who benefitted greatly from her employer’s ramp-up policy when she came back from maternity leave. Lillian is a new mom, an alum of our Mindful Return program, and a lawyer at Littler (one of our Mindful Return employer partners). If your employer doesn’t currently have a ramp-up policy in place, I urge them to read Lillian’s sage advice and consider adopting one soon.
Question from Mindful Return: Welcome to the Mindful Return blog, Lillian! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your own working parent story?
My name is Lillian Manning. I live in St. Louis with my husband, daughter and two dogs. I am an associate attorney practicing employment law with the firm Littler Mendelson. I’ve just started my journey as a working parent. My daughter was born in July 2022. I was on parental leave until November 2022, and I have been back at work for two months.
Question from Mindful Return: You work for an employer that offered you a ramp-down or ramp-up option when you went out on leave. Which was it? (Ramp-down, ramp-up, or both?) Was there a formal policy on it? And how did it work, logistically?
My firm offered a ramp-up option when I returned from leave. The firm has a formal policy which allows you to choose to return part time for up to 6 months following your return from leave. In particular, you can be at a lower FTE (full time equivalent) of 50% or more during that period. You can also change the FTE% up to two times during that time.
I returned to work at 80% FTE, which reduces my billable hour requirement by 20%. You can decide how you want to get your hours in – whether you spread your time across five days, work four longer days, etc. I am breastfeeding and have an early daycare pick-up, so I am using the lower FTE% to allow more flexibility to each day, while still working five days a week. The firm also automatically applies 60 billable credit hours upon your return as “ramp up” hours.
Question from Mindful Return: How did you find out about these options?
The information about the ramp-up period was promoted by the firm in a number of ways. The firm has an internal hub site with a dedicated benefits page for parental resources. I was made aware of this site and the policies though firmwide emails and correspondence provided by our benefits team after I told my management about my pregnancy and anticipated leave. The 60 ramp-up hours were not listed in any policy that I reviewed. But they were applied upon my return form work.
Question from Mindful Return: How does your employer handle compensation during the ramp-down or ramp-up period?
My compensation is based on my FTE%. So, at 80% FTE, my pay is 80% of my full-time rate. The 60 ramp-up hours reduced the amount I had to work without any impact on my compensation.
Question from Mindful Return: Is there anything about the policy you particularly liked or would change?
I am very grateful to have a formal policy. I have a great working relationship with my management, but it took out any question as to my options, at an already overwhelming time as a new parent. As a breastfeeding mom, I do wish that the ramp-up period could last until one year post birth, as this would continue to help with the balance of pump time and my billable hour requirement (ours is nearly there, just not quite). However, I believe I can discuss the potential of being at a lower FTE% for longer with my management. This conversation would just be outside of the formal ramp-up policy.
Question from Mindful Return: What were the primary benefits you felt of having this option in place?
Having the option to ramp-up at a lower FTE% has greatly reduced my stress and anxiety with the return to work. It allows me time to get back up to speed on my current matters and solicit new work, so that I am at an appropriate capacity. It also allows me time to navigate my new day as a working, breastfeeding mom. That is, everything from the morning routine and daycare drop-off, to the 3x a day during work I am pumping, to the early daycare pickup and evening routine.
I am already finding the routine to be easier and learning how to adjust my day to get all of my home and work responsibilities tackled. But it has been, and continues to be, a process, which is aided through the ramp-up period. The ramp-up period is another way my firm has shown support for me as a new working parent. It also helps further my commitment to be the best working parent I can be.
Question from Mindful Return: Do you have any advice for employers considering adopting a ramp-down or ramp-up policy for individuals going on parental leave?
If you are reading this and have additional questions for Lillian, please leave them in comments below! Also, if your employer adopted a ramp-down or ramp-up policy, please share how it works below as well. We love to share best practices for supporting amazing working parent talent.
Lillian Manning is a senior associate practicing management-side employment law with the firm Littler Mendelson. Based out of St. Louis, MO, she works with local, regional, and national employers to provide advice and counsel, policy review and implementation, trainings, and internal investigations, as well as to defend administrative charges and lawsuits with employment law claims.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave