Bunnings and Target sign up to support working parents

Bunnings and Target are taking part in a pilot program in Victoria to learn how to support parents returning to the workplace in conjunction with Transitioning Well and the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE).

Through the Perinatal Workplace Wellbeing Program, the teams at Transitioning Well and COPE will create tailored educational modules and offer workplace training for each of the participating businesses. Funded by WorkSafe, the pilot will run until 2021 and, based on the results of the program, the team will consider how to best roll it out into the broader community. 

“Our team members are our greatest strength and any way that we can show support is very important to us. We hope this work will help improve the overall wellbeing of expectant and new parents at Bunnings,” Jacqui Coombes, HR director at Bunnings, told Inside Retail Weekly.

“We love having a diverse team that reflects the communities in which we operate. Working parents not only help us provide great service to our customers, supporting them ensures they stay and grow their career with Bunnings, which is reflected in our retention rates. We also want to ensure everyone feels valued, respected and connected at work.”

According to Dr Sarah Cotton, psychologist at Transitioning Well, while more businesses are offering better parental leave, perinatal mental health is often overlooked. While staff returning to the workplace need more support from their employer as they navigate their new lives as working parents, historically, the transition is something the individual often shoulders alone.

“The transition from becoming a working person to a working parent is so significant and it’s largely unspoken about. There’s so much workplaces can do to support them, so it’s time to shine a light on it so they can do things differently,” Dr Cotton told Inside Retail Weekly.

Statistics have shown that after the birth of their babies, parents are often in a particularly vulnerable mental state. Twelve weeks after birth, 36 per cent of men are more likely to have an accident at work, while 26 per cent experience a near-miss on the road getting to and from the office. According to figures from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, one in seven new mums and one in 10 new dads suffer from postnatal depression. 

The business case for supporting working parents is clear, as annual estimated costs of lost productivity in the workplace come to $158 million for mothers and $68 million for fathers if not addressed. Research from Transitioning Well has revealed that 40 per cent of employees say they won’t recommend their company if they have a bad parental leave experience.

“The risk of not doing anything is very real for businesses. It’s no longer ‘a nice to have’ – it’s of real importance for organisations,” said Dr Cotton.

‘The walk of shame’ is alive and well

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average woman takes eight months off while on parental leave, during which stage, the modern workplace can change dramatically, said Cotton. This is especially the case for those in the retail industry, where mergers, demergers and restructures can often take place.

“Few people will go back to the same manager, that’s really uncommon these days. When someone first starts working for a company, you have all these inductions and onboarding, but when someone comes back from parental leave, often they’re expected to just pick up from where they left off,” said Dr Cotton. 

Meanwhile, for many working parents, their confidence experiences a dive and their “work fitness” takes some time to return, she added. Those businesses that can offer support both before and during parental leave often find that employees’ return to work is much smoother for both parties.

“People are also worried about the impact on their careers. There are lots of concerns for people when they come back. The Human Rights Commission showed that one in two women and one in four men experienced discrimination in the parental leave period.”

That stigma is also present for working fathers, whether they’re concerned about the impact taking parental leave will have on their careers, or simply asking for more flexibility. Only one in 50 men take parental leave, some of the lowest numbers in the world.

“That ‘walk of shame’ is very much alive in Australia, especially for men if they have to leave work early,” said Dr Cotton.


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