Opinion

How to support women returning from maternity leave in the workplace

6 min read

28 December 2017

Returning to work after maternity leave is an emotionally draining transition for many women, so here’s how companies can make the process better.

With nearly one in three women leaving their jobs within two years of returning from maternity leave, it is important for employers to understand how they can improve this transition experience for women in their team.

(1) Staged return

Staging returning from maternity leave over a few visits allows employees to dip their feet into their job and identify areas for retraining, work out the most efficient flexible work pattern, and reconnect with colleagues and clients. This approach allows the employee to hit the ground running when they formally return to work.

Keeping In Touch (KIT) Days are a great opportunity for a staged return.  They are still underutilised because people are unaware about how to make effective use of them or struggle with the logistics of childcare for the adhoc work visit.

Meeting with employees before the start of maternity leave to plan for a few KIT days will give them time to arrange the logistics, decide what they want to achieve through the KIT day and hit the ground running when they restart work.

(2) Introduce them to colleagues who have recently gone through the same transition

With the new priorities and demands that parenthood brings, employees may initially struggle to allocate their attention and energy in the most efficient way.

This can be demoralising for employees returning from maternity leave to jobs they previously loved and excelled at. Meeting others who have recently faced similar challenges will encourage employees that they will eventually settle into their new roles and even learn to juggle them like a pro.

This can be achieved through professional women’s networks or a buddy system coordinated by HR who is often aware of which employees have recently returned from maternity leave.

(3) Work together to design a flexible working pattern

The option for flexible working is extremely important to women returning from maternity leave. In a national survey of women on maternity leave, 79 per cent requested a flexible working pattern on their return.

Organisations that give employees the option to work flexibly have a higher retention rates than those who do not.

Work together to find a way your employee can work to deliver their goals around the needs of their life outside work. Showing understanding and appreciation of their life outside work will only feed more loyalty and productivity from the returning employee.


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(4) Create a culture of inclusivity

Returning after a period of absence can leave someone feeling like the outsider. They may not understand in jokes, recollections of recent events and or even the reasons behind certain new changes to their department.

Inviting employees to parties, events and key meetings during their maternity leave can help prevent feelings of isolation.  Once the employee has returned to work, take the time to update them about team gossip and new projects over a welcome lunch. Feel like part of the team will improve engagement and commitment to the job.

(5) Invest in their career growth

The women who tend to leave their jobs after maternity leave are those who are in senior roles where working independently is financially feasible. This fallout of female employees, contributes to the fact that less than 20 per cent of UK companies have women in executive positions, despite evidence that businesses with women in executive roles perform better financially than those without an influential female.

Mothers returning to work part-time often report that they felt excluded and overlooked. Their inability to attend evening networking events, away days or socialise with clients outside of work, can result in them being cut out of opportunities for career advancement.

Recognising the knowledge and talent returning employees bring with them and considering them for opportunities for career growth will only increase the financial productivity of your business.

Try to schedule business networking events on the days and times that she is available, or offer childcare solutions for the key events that fall outside her regular schedule. Gestures of appreciation like this are expected to deter any thoughts of leaving your organisation for greener pastures after returning from maternity leave.

Dr Tamara is a paediatrician and founder of childcare agency Helper Bees, which has supported several women in their transition back to work from maternity leave. Helper Bees has recently launched a Maternity Transition Benchmark Test to help businesses assess how they support of women transitioning back to work from maternity leave.