Returning From Parental Leave Can Be Stressful. How Some Employers Aim to Fix That.
Companies increasingly are creating formal ‘reboarding’ programs to help new parents transition back to work more easily
Companies increasingly are creating formal ‘reboarding’ programs to help new parents transition back to work more easily
Sarah Tucker-Ray, a partner in McKinsey’s Washington, D.C., office, felt a lot of trepidation when she took a six-month parental leave in 2022.
“There is fear about, ‘Am I going to get written out of the story?’ ” says the 36-year-old Tucker-Ray, whose daughter, Viviana, was born in August 2022. “Is someone going to step in for me and take over? How will I come back?”
She addressed those fears in a reintegration plan that she drafted before going on leave. It included instructions for those who would be covering her workload while she was out, and it laid out what she wanted her job to look like when she returned. For example, Tucker-Ray didn’t want her role to change significantly, but she asked to not be given any internal projects—those focused on McKinsey’s own operations versus those of outside clients—during her first six months back. She also thought about small stuff, such as writing down all of her passwords, and she connected with other working mothers at the company who served as peer counsellors before she went on leave.
“They told me that the goal for week one is to get dressed, have breakfast with my baby, get into a suit without getting spilled on and get out the door,” she says. “It sounds so basic but I hadn’t had to do that yet.”
The days, weeks, and months after a new parent returns to work after leave can be a critical and challenging time for an employee. Many experience anxiety about how they are going to manage work and parenting, and some end up feeling like a failure at both.
To address that, some organisations have launched formal “reboarding” programs that structure those first months back after leave so they aren’t overwhelming for new parents, while also providing them with emotional support. McKinsey tested such a program in Europe and then expanded it globally
Many see it as a business imperative. Organisations are making substantial investments in paid maternity and paternity leave—in 2023, 40% of organisations in a Society for Human Resource Management survey offered paid maternity leave and 32% offered paid paternity leave—and they want to ensure new parents return to work and are productive and content when they do.
A successful reboarding program requires planning, and it and starts long before an employee goes on leave, consultants and HR leaders say. It begins with mapping out a comprehensive work-coverage plan, including if and under what circumstances the employee wants to be contacted about work while out on leave. The plan also should create clear expectations about what the return-to-work will look like, including the employee’s job description post-leave and even an explanation of what that first daunting day back might entail.
Many reboarding programs also connect new moms with experienced working parents or colleagues who have recently returned from parental leaves, as well as a coach (often an outside consultant) who can help set priorities and guidance on best practices.
When Maria del Mar Martinez became head of McKinsey’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in Europe in 2018, she learned that working moms left the management-consulting firm at nearly double the rate of their childless female peers with similar tenure. In exit interviews, women shared common grievances, including the challenge of balancing parenthood with a demanding job, a lack of support from their managers and few role models.
She heard similar sentiments in Asia and the U.S.
“That was a business problem,” says del Mar Martinez, now the global head of DEI at McKinsey. “I don’t want to lose those amazing women coming up the pipeline.”
To combat attrition, del Mar Martinez created a reboarding pilot program in Europe that included coaching employees before, during and after a parental leave. (Men are eligible to take part in the program if they have taken 12 weeks or more of leave.)
Built into the plan was a guarantee that new parents would have “meaningful work” upon their return, with the option of slowing down if that’s what they wanted, says del Mar Martinez. One issue, she and others say, is that managers often incorrectly assume that new mothers want lighter workloads or don’t want to travel, which is why it’s important for employees to spell out their preferences in a reboarding plan.
The McKinsey pilot required managers to confirm they understood their employee’s reintegration plan and to calibrate goals in performance reviews to ensure the person taking leave wouldn’t be penalised.
It worked. McKinsey closed the European attrition gap in 18 months, del Mar Martinez says, and later expanded the program globally.
Other companies are increasing the support they offer to new parents, too, including Wall Street’s Morgan Stanley, which in 2019 appointed Allyson Bronner head of family advocacy at the company’s institutional division, a full-time position that focuses on supporting employees before, during and after parental leaves.
Bronner says one of the best ways to ensure a successful return experience for new parents is to include managers in the process.
To that end, she meets with an expecting employee’s manager between the 25th and 30th week of pregnancy to preview what the employee’s return-to-work will look like and discuss best practices for easing the transition.
“It’s important to set the scene and give them tools to manage their employees,” she says.
She says her next meeting with the manager occurs about a month before the employee is due back to discuss how the first month should be structured. She suggests the manager call the new parent two to three weeks ahead to preview what the first few days back will look like—namely, checking email and showing colleagues baby pictures.
The support continues throughout the first several months, with managers having weekly check-ins with the employee for the first six weeks and then monthly check-ins after that. Bronner encourages managers to ask new parents how they are doing and how their child care is going to determine whether they would benefit from more support or advice in that area.
Since Morgan Stanley created the family advocacy role, “it feels like there has been a culture shift,” Bronner says. “It’s hard to quantify in numbers, but culturally it feels like we’re moving in a more positive direction.”
A culture shift is also under way at chip-equipment maker ASML, which recently expanded the paid parental leave it offers and in May joined forces with employee-benefits firm Parentaly to create a support system for new parents.
ASML is in a male-dominated industry, says Karen Reinhardt, the firm’s chief human-resource officer in the U.S., so retaining women is critical to having a diverse workforce.
As of December, 82 employees had registered for the reboarding program, “more people than we expected,” Reinhardt says.
Among them is Meredith Polm Sheain of San Diego, a knowledge-management developer who went out on maternity leave in late August. In her reboarding plan, she made clear that she wanted to be notified while on leave about any bumps in a recently launched product. She also laid out her priorities for the first two months of her return.
“I felt so much better about the concept of returning to work once I gave my team this plan,” says Polm Sheain, who returned to work on Dec. 22. “I left them and myself in the best position I could.”
Reboarding isn’t the only new benefit companies are offering to make life easier for new parents.
McKinsey’s Tucker-Ray was asked to attend a partner conference in Atlanta about six weeks after returning from maternity leave. The firm covered the cost of her daughter and caregiver (her husband) to join her on the trip since she was still breast-feeding.
“I would have been torn about going away for nearly a week for an internal event but it became a nonevent,” she says. “It got rid of the barrier to feeling you can’t participate fully in parenting and be a leader.”
Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.
The chip company that is cashing in on the market’s artificial-intelligence obsession seems to many investors like an unstoppable force
Nvidia ’s historic run is minting profits for investors big and small . Many are betting the boom is just beginning.
They are piling into trades that the chipmaker’s shares, which have more than tripled over the past year , are headed still higher. Some have turned to the options market to look for ways to turbocharge their bets on artificial intelligence after a blockbuster earnings report sent the stock up 17% over the past two days.
The exuberance reflects hope that the company is the vanguard of wide adoption of artificial intelligence—and an intense fear of missing out among investors who have sat on the sidelines while the company’s valuation has eclipsed $2 trillion .
With the help of Nvidia, stocks have stormed into 2024 . The S&P 500, which has chalked up fresh records in recent weeks, is up 6.7%. That is the index’s second-best performance for this time period over the past 10 years. The gains were only surpassed by an 11% increase in 2019.
Nvidia has contributed to about a quarter of those gains, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The Nasdaq, too, is up 6.6% this year and neared a record Friday. The tech-heavy index has been boosted by Nvidia, which this week tacked on $277 billion in additional market value, along with six other tech titans collectively known as the Magnificent Seven.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 3.8% this year and has hit repeated records in recent weeks.
“You look at these numbers and what this company’s done—it’s almost without precedent,” said Mike Ogborne, founder of San Francisco-based hedge fund Ogborne Capital Management, who counts Nvidia among his top five biggest holdings . “It is nothing short of amazing.”
Ogborne compared AI with the launch of the internet more than two decades ago, which kick-started a technology craze that lasted years.
“It’s exciting,” Ogborne said. “It’s great for America.”
Tamar June in Reno, Nev., is one investor along for Nvidia’s furious stock-market ascent. Since the 1990s, the 61-year-old software-company chief executive has been buying shares of tech firms, including Apple , Microsoft , Cisco, Intel and Oracle . June had been familiar with Nvidia for some time but in recent years kept reading about the chip company in the news. She liked that it was profitable and growing.
June decided to purchase some shares in 2022 at about $260, then watched the stock erase more than half of its value later that year. She held on, knowing that Nvidia’s graphics processing units were in high demand for cloud computing. Then, an AI frenzy hit the stock market in 2023, sending Nvidia’s stock soaring.
Now, Nvidia shares are closing in on $800, and June is looking for opportunities to buy more. She isn’t fazed by worries that the AI boom is bound to come crashing down. June experienced the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis—and watched stocks bounce back to new highs.
“I think it’s still in the beginning stages,” June said of AI developments. “There’s still a lot of headroom for technology because our whole future depends on it.”
A herd of investors chased Nvidia while it raced toward its $2 trillion valuation.
At Robinhood Markets , Nvidia was the most purchased stock by customers on a net basis and received the heaviest notional trading volumes over the past month, according to Stephanie Guild, head of investment strategy at the digital brokerage.
The rise drove many traders to pile into the company’s options, a risky corner of the market notorious for boom-and-bust trades.
Nvidia has also morphed into one of the most popular trades in this market, with traders placing more than $20 billion in stock-options bets tied to the company over the past week, according to Cboe Global Markets data. That was more than what they spent on Tesla , Meta Platforms , Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet combined.
Call options, contracts that confer the right to buy shares at a specific price, were particularly popular. And many of the trades appeared to suggest that investors were fearful of missing out on bigger gains to come. Some of the most active trades Friday were calls pegged to the shares jumping to $800 or $850, up from their closing price of $788.17. Betting against the shares has been a losing game , leading many investors to throw in the towel on bearish wagers.
The values of many of these options bets exploded while Nvidia soared, rewarding those who piled in. The big gains also enticed others to join in the trades while the stock’s rally continued.
“There’s a snowball effect,” said Henry Schwartz, a vice president at exchange-operator Cboe Global Markets, of the options activity surrounding Nvidia.
Ahead of the tech behemoth’s earnings report Wednesday, options pegged to the shares jumping to $1,300 —around double where they were trading at the time—were some of the most popular trades.
And for some investors, the 16% one-day jump in Nvidia’s share price Thursday wasn’t enough. They sought even bigger returns and piled into several niche exchange-traded funds that offer magnified exposure to Nvidia stock.
The GraniteShares 2x Long NVDA Daily ETF has taken in almost half a billion dollars from investors on a net basis since launching late in 2022. The fund’s shares have more than doubled in 2024 and have surged nearly 650% since inception.
There have been few signs of profit-taking so far. Investors added a net $263 million to the fund in the past month. The fund’s cousin, which turbocharges bearish bets against Nvidia, has been much less popular.
The euphoria surrounding Nvidia has spread to other stocks, too. Shares of Super Micro Computer , a much smaller company worth less than $50 billion, popped more than 30% Thursday after Nvidia’s earnings report. Traders spent more than $5 billion on options tied to the company, more than what they spent on Tesla this week. Tesla is worth about 13 times as much as the company.
Nvidia’s continued, rapid ascent has stunned even early bulls on semiconductors and generative AI.
Atreides Management founder Gavin Baker, who started covering Nvidia as an analyst at Fidelity in 2000, reminded investors in his Boston hedge fund in an early 2021 letter of Marc Andreessen ’s adage that software was eating the world. “Today, AI is replacing software,” he wrote.
Atreides started buying Nvidia shares in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to regulatory filings.
The wager proved profitable. But as Nvidia shares kept soaring, Baker started selling. Atreides was out of Nvidia by the end of the second quarter of 2023. “This has been a painful mistake,” Baker wrote in a June 2023 letter to his clients, when Nvidia was trading north of $420 a share.
Atreides’s stake in competitor Advanced Micro Devices has helped alleviate the pain from missing out on larger gains. The firm made nearly a quarter billion last year alone on AMD, which it continues to hold along with several other related bets.
Michael Hannosh, a 20-year-old college student in Chicago, said he first purchased shares of Nvidia in August 2022, when the stock traded below $180. Nvidia was one of his first-ever stock purchases. He had built a custom computer for videogaming and used a lot of Nvidia parts.
Hannosh said he kept the shares until last March, then sold them for a roughly 30% profit. He later bought a few more shares at about $230 and sold them over the course of the next several days at a profit.
The shares have tripled since.
“It’s blown my f—ing mind to bits. It’s insane,” said Hannosh. “I really wish I held it, obviously.”