By March 2021, nearly half a million Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic still hadn’t returned to work by the beginning of that year, according to data from the Royal Bank of Canada. It also found more than 200,000 women had slipped into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a threefold increase since 2020. As well, a Statistics Canada survey found 42 per cent of Canadian parents postponed returning to work in 2022 due to difficulties finding childcare.

Early in 2020, Snap Inc. introduced a return-to-work program to help working parents — particularly women caregivers — find work-life balance as they build their careers and families. The technology company provides 26 weeks of leave for employees who are birthing parents and 16 weeks for non-birthing parents with a top-up to 100 per cent of their salary.

Read: Women’s participation in labour force reaches lowest level in three decades: study

The transition from parental leave back into employment can be challenging, says Susan August, Snap’s vice-president of total rewards and people, noting the organization recognized that facilitating the return process would help make it more successful. “It’s a vulnerable time for people, as they’re really changing their lifestyle. Snap recognized . . . we needed a bridge . . . to help them get back into the full-time workforce.”

Under the new program, full-time employees who are returning from leave beyond 16 consecutive weeks can coordinate with their team leaders to take up to a month to ease back into their jobs. Employees in the program can work from home on a part-time schedule or with flexible hours fully paid. And while many of the organization’s employees have used the program after taking parental leaves, they can also use it following medical leaves.

Flight to flexibility

Among women who were planning to look for a new job in the first half of 2023, 82 per cent said they were looking for hybrid or fully remote roles because they needed more flexibility, according to a survey by Robert Half Inc.

By the numbers

47% of parents using childcare in early 2022 reported difficulty finding care. Among respondents who looked for childcare but weren’t using it, more than half reported difficulties finding it.

• Parents of children younger than 1 year were most likely (47%) to report difficulties finding childcare, while respondents with children aged 4 or 5 attending school were the least likely (35%) to report difficulties.

• Among respondents using childcare who reported difficulties finding it, 57% found it difficult to find care in their communities, while 46% had difficulty just finding affordable care.

Source: Statistics Canada survey, 2022

The pandemic opened employers’ eyes to employees’ mental health and wellness, particularly those with children, says Sandra Lavoy, regional director at Robert Half Canada. Indeed, many are prioritizing individualized wellness, especially since employees’ values have changed on what they’re prepared to sacrifice in terms of their mental health. “It’s no longer about choosing between work and their personal lives. Employees are now seeking out companies that offer the best work-life integration.”

Read: Majority of Canadian working moms struggling with work-life balance: survey

Employees today — especially millennials and generation Z — are demanding more work-life balance, she adds, noting flexible working allows staff to be more active in their children’s lives.

Companies excel when they have a diverse perspective, so Snap does its best to ensure it’s keeping women at the table, says August, adding the organization frequently considers what supports are needed for individuals to elevate to the next level at the company.

A changing workforce

Snap noticed the changing demographics of its workforce when some employees left as they hit a more mature period in their personal lives.

It was a sign that, if the organization wanted to maintain a diverse employee base, it had to support its team members through all stages of their lives.

“We wanted our birthing and non-birthing parents to continue on their [career paths] with Snap and increase their tenure and experience,” says August, noting it helped that many of Snap’s company leaders were also going through some of these life changes alongside employees, so the culture of support was inherently tied to the company’s evolution.

Read: PwC Canada improving parental leave with specialized coaching, leadership training

Its parental supports include: a digital, on-demand care program for parents and their partners, which provides access to pregnancy, fertility, in vitro fertilization and return-to-work assistance; a digital research-based fitness program for mothers and their partners, which includes streamlined workouts and tailored regimens for a healthy, fit pregnancy and postnatal recovery; and a digital-care dashboard that connects employees with their own private care co-ordinator to offer support, such as scheduling doctor’s appointments, filling prescriptions and sourcing and vetting in-home aides.

Snap also regularly checks in with employees to see what they need to continue successfully within the company, with feedback directly contributing to the development of the return-to-work program. And feedback about the program has been positive, says August, with participating employees saying it’s doing exactly what’s needed — allowing them to continue spending time with their children while gradually returning to work.

Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.