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Ask HR: How Can Stay-at-Home Parents Stay Connected with the World of Work?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


I plan to take a hiatus from my career as a project manager to commit to full-time parenting of my preschool-age children. What can I do as I leave and while I am away to ease re-entry into my field?–Tyler

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: First, congratulations on your decision. Being a parent is incredibly rewarding, demanding and important. You can do many things to stay relevant and ease your re-entry into the workforce once you decide you are ready to return to your career.

As you prepare to leave your current position, make sure you do so on a good note. Review and comply with your employer's resignation policy, as many organizations ask for at least two weeks' notice or if you can work an extended notice period in either a full- or part-time capacity. Because hiring and training a new employee can take a while, your employer would undoubtedly appreciate it. Thank your employer and co-workers for the opportunity you had to work with them and offer your help in any way you can during your final weeks. And then "keep the door open" for the opportunity to return at some point in the future.

Once you are a full-time parent, make time to stay relevant in your industry. Consider taking professional development classes, obtaining or maintaining industry-specific credentials, reading business articles and listening to podcasts related to your career field. Stay connected on LinkedIn and volunteer while keeping tabs on your former co-workers and industry friends. Like many professionals, you've likely encountered multiple recruiters during your career. Keep track of contacts during your hiatus, as they may come in handy down the line.

Adapting to technology is one of the more critical hurdles for people returning to work. Workplace innovation is constantly accelerating, so do your best to stay current. Look for some devices or apps to sharpen your tech skills and make your daily life easier.

As your young children become a little more self-sufficient, consider taking on a project (paid or unpaid) as a consultant/gig worker. Not only might it give you some extra "play" money, but it will provide real-life experience and a portfolio you can share with prospective employers once you decide to return to full-time work.

Finally, technical skills are essential, but you should also lean into your "power" skills, such as organization, communication and collaboration, which are always in demand and bring value to almost any position or industry.

When you are ready to re-enter the workforce, be sure your resume documents everything you've done to stay current in your industry. Contact your former employer if you want to work for them again. If not, reach out to your network via former co-workers, LinkedIn and other networking sites. Once you've decided where you want to apply, create a cover letter with a tailored resume to grab the recruiter and hiring manager's attention. Highlight your qualifications, education and experience. While applying and interviewing for jobs, take a more assertive approach to networking. Attend events relevant to your career field or join a local chapter of a professional association. Meeting new people in your industry can open doors for new opportunities both now and in the future.

By taking these steps, you can remain relevant while being a full-time stay-at-home parent and ease your way back into your career field once you are ready. Best wishes in your transition!

My wife is pregnant and works at a manufacturing facility. While primarily working in an office, she occasionally visits the factory floor. She recently slipped on some oil and fell. She was uninjured. Would I be out of line speaking to a plant manager or HR about safety at their facility?–Erwin

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations to you and your wife on the pregnancy. I'm relieved your wife's fall didn't result in injury.

If you and your spouse both work for the same employer, it may be appropriate for you, as an employee, to follow the proper protocols for communicating your concerns about workplace safety conditions. 

But if you are not an employee, do not reach out to your wife's employer. As a former CHRO, I can tell you there is nothing more off-putting than hearing from a spouse or parent of an employee about work matters. Whenever I received such calls, I would respectfully but firmly remind the caller that I only take calls about workplace matters from my employees, unless the employee's injury has rendered them incapable of raising the concerns. I cannot caution you enough against taking this step.

Ultimately, the relationship should be between the employer and the employee, not between the employer, the employee and the employee's family. Indeed, your concern for the safety of your wife and unborn child is warranted. However, it would be better to channel your concern into encouraging your wife to address HR with any appropriate safety concerns. If she wants your support in approaching HR or management, you can help her think through how to approach the situation and which key points to share, but leave the actual outreach to her. 


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