3) Return to work
According to the report, “10 per cent of women said they were treated worse by their employer after returning to work after having a baby”.
Returning to work post maternity leave is a hard transition for most working mothers. In some cases, it is starting a new job again, but with added family pressures and tighter time constraints.
If budgets permit, I would suggest three action points to assist with the transition.
Firstly, permit the individual to take any accrued holiday days during the first few months back, maybe one or two days per week. This may mean shorter weeks for the first few weeks, but is helpful in ensuring the returning mother gets back up to speed at a manageable pace.
Secondly, ensure there is a handover period from the interim cover. This usually takes a few weeks as well.
Thirdly, managers could consider offering maternity coaching with external coaches who work with prospective mothers and new mothers before, during and after maternity to coach them through each transitional phase and make sure they are getting the support they need from the business.
Overall, getting back into work post maternity leave usually takes a month or two and managing expectations on this all round will be helpful for all parties concerned.
4) Pressure to leave
According to the report, “7 per cent said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice”.
Employees should never be pressured to “hand in their notice”, under any circumstances.
If the working arrangement is not working, hours need to be changed, days working from home need to be changed, or if the individual’s performance is not at the acceptable standard, the manager needs to deal with such situations via the appropriate procedure.
In addition, I would recommend that any change in working arrangements should be reviewed regularly, maybe every three months for the first nine months back at work, with the right to make adjustments if the arrangement is not working.
5) Effect on remuneration and opportunities
According to the report, “one in 20 reported receiving a cut in pay or bonus after returning to their job. Even when mothers were given the chance to work flexibly on their return to work, around half said it cut their work opportunities and they felt their opinion was less valued”.
This is something I come across quite often when interviewing senior lawyers – how opportunities were affected after maternity leave or due to a change in working arrangements.
Remember the phrase “if you want something done ask a busy person”? That is a working parent. More hours does not mean more efficiency or better value, it just means the individual had the time. Value your employees, male/female, with or without children, based on the value of their work and not by how many hours they spend at their desk.
In the face of this report, let’s not forget the positives. We have made significant progress since the late 90s when many of the pregnancy and maternity leave policies came into force and we are still evolving, for example, shared parental leave.
However, on the behavioural level we still need to train leaders not to see maternity leave as a business challenge which will impact negatively. More often than not it can be an opportunity to give someone internal a development opportunity or even bring in some new skills. Overall the right approach to managing maternity creates retention and a loyal, motivated workforce.
Denise Nurse is CEO and co-founder of Halebury.
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