In the not-too-distant past, parental leave wasn’t even a thing. Women were instead forced to resign from their jobs when they got married, and when children came along? Well, work continued as normal.

Fast forward 50 years, and (thankfully!) things have changed. In fact, in recognition of the role parental leave plays in attracting and retaining talent, companies are now clamouring to offer the best benefits. Take, for example,  AGL’s extension of their paid leave from 14 weeks to 20, and Spotify’s announcement that they’ll give new mothers up to 6 months’ pay after giving birth (or a total of 3 years off). Onsite at Google, parents even get free childcare. It seems that the tide has well and truly turned, and businesses are acutely aware of the consequences of not providing for parents.

What is less, clear, though is what constitutes ‘best practice’ parental leave programs. Do employees want to be left alone during their leave? Do they want to stay in touch? Should you offer them part-time work, or should you wait for them to ask?

There is no one perfect answer to the above questions, and likewise, no one perfect parental leave program. But at a minimum, here are 5 inclusions every company should aim for in their program:

Customisable paid leave

 According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), giving employees options is key when it comes to providing best practice paid parental leave. And according to the WGEA, these options needn’t be the most expensive – they just need to be flexible.

If you can, the WGEA recommends having paid parental leave (for as long as possible) in conjunction with the ability to take that leave at half pay. Another great addition, they say, is to pay super on all of those benefits, as, is the case with ANZ’s parental leave program.

If you’re unable to offer company parental leave, there are still options, though. You can choose to top up the government benefits, or provide super on top of them..

Inclusion in workplace change processes

 Change naturally happens while parents are away from work, but that doesn’t mean that they need or even want to be excluded from these changes. Often, though, companies are unsure of just how much they should include employees who are on leave in change processes.

The answer is to keep them informed and give them options, according to the WGEA. Keeping them informed could be as simple as emailing them with key announcements and team changes, or it could include some time in the office for important meetings or ‘keep in touch’ days, where a staff member comes in for up to 12 (paid) days a year so they can keep abreast of what’s happening.

 Return to work assistance

Helping employees return to work after parental leave is another area that can be tricky. Should businesses assume that everything will go back to normal, or should they provide a more structured solution?

The reality is that for many parents, transitioning back into the workforce can have its challenges, so support is appreciated. What this support should constitute can vary from employee to employee, but options which are often gladly received include opportunities to reskill or upskill, or even return-to-work coaching or assistance with personal branding.

 Flexible return-to-work options

The opportunity to polish skills and industry knowledge isn’t the only thing that employees want when they return to work. Research has found that flexibility is more important to working parents than salary and just about any other benefit.

But what does flexibility look like? Flexibility comes in many shapes and forms; and what flexible options staff need will depend on their individual circumstances. For example, some staff may want to explore part-time options, work from home, or travel less. On the other hand, some may want a more challenging or senior role, but may require some support to do so.

Like everything, the key to successful flexibility is providing choice – not assuming one size fits all..

Child care assistance

With child care waitlists getting longer and longer, and childcare fees in Australia officially the highest in the world, giving parents help in this area is an often-overlooked, but much-appreciated inclusion in any parental leave program.

And according to the WGEA, there are many ways that companies can do this. One possible way is providing onsite childcare, but if this isn’t an option, simply helping parents to find childcare and enrol their children can be a great help (there are consultants that can help with this) or even offering a small payment towards the cost of care.

Parental leave – it’s all about choice

When it comes to helping new parents throughout their leave period and when they return to work, the options are almost endless. And so, too, are the variety of people’s needs and desires. But catering to this kind of variety has always been hard.

Hard, that is, until now. Emerging HR tech companies such as Career Money Life, are giving companies the opportunity to completely customise parental leave experiences, through their online portal which enables employees to select which services and providers they’d like to use.

What this means is that a company can allocate a certain budget to employees on parental leave, and they are free to use this as they see fit, selecting anything from return-to-work coaching to retraining – even a yoga retreat if this is what they feel they’d most benefit from!

Giving options means that parental leave, and the journey back to work that follows it, can be the best possible for every employee – and every business.