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Final cut: Supporting families through re-onboarding

April 15, 2019  By Tanya Wick

We’ve all heard the story from friends and family, or even experienced it ourselves. A woman returns to work from maternity leave to find she has a new boss and new accountabilities, all while learning to juggle childcare arrangements and the endless responsibilities at home.

This story is the reality all too often. Though men are taking parental leave more frequently than ever, the impact of returning from maternity leave can take a huge toll on a woman’s career.

A diverse employee group has proven to be higher performing and better equipped to meet and solve more difficult challenges. With female representation that was lower than the industry average, women are a key part of the diversity solution for Tolko. Since we’ve set a goal to better retain and recruit women, we’ve discovered there are often hidden practices that can hinder progress.

We analyzed our statistics with that end goal in mind and found that women were resigning at a rate of 50 per cent more than men. A full 50 per cent were not returning after maternity leave. We realized our practices were inadvertently impacting women.


As a family-owned company, Tolko understands that families need to grow and change over time. While our family benefits have improved in recent years – Tolko actively supports parental leave and offers parental leave top-up – we had neglected one important question: what happens when these employees return to work?

Though we have a robust onboarding program for new employees, we had no formal process or supports for re-onboarding. We were making the assumption that returning employees would jump right back in, even though 12 to 18 months had gone by. As a result, we were losing talented, knowledgeable and engaged employees. Over the last year, we’ve committed to doing better.

We created a formal program for new parents that clearly identifies touchpoints along a timeline: before the leave begins, once the baby arrives, six months into the leave, two months before return and after the return. We’ve developed tools for employees and their supervisors so that the process is formal and managed. In addition to supervisors, HR plays an active role in maintaining contact and reminding employees of their benefits at appropriate times. We built this program with empathy in mind. We want to celebrate this amazing time in life for our employees and do everything we can to ensure they enjoy it to the fullest.

Before the leave begins, we ask managers to work with employees to determine what supports they need to transition their work and how they prefer to handle the leave. We need to find out what kinds of communication they want to receive while away and if they would like to be included in formal and informal events. Some employees may wish to work during their leave and we can often find ways to support that. Others may want to attend key meetings to stay on top of things or may want to take training. Some want to completely detach and focus entirely on family. All options are valid, and we can support them all, but first we need to be clear on the employee’s wishes.

Once we have clarified and documented the employee’s preferences, we set up a regular schedule of communication to ensure we follow through on our commitments. We send reminders of supports available through the employee and family assistance program, such as the New Parent Support Program and Busy Family Childcare Locator.

Before the employee returns to work, their supervisor communicates with them to see if we can offer support to help with the transition. If the employee needs extra flexibility, such as job sharing or a modified work week, we work with them to do all we can. We also establish a clear 30-60-90 day plan for goals, re-training on procedures and an overview of any new training.

The discovery that we had missed planning for re-onboarding led to a number of easy but effective solutions. I’m confident we’ll see our retention rate increase, which will impact our diversity goals and help us build a stronger company. Most importantly, our employees will feel more supported to keep family their first priority, while still building a career they love.

Tanya Wick is vice-president of people and services at Tolko.

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