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Retaining your best assets after maternity leave

August 15, 2017


How often have you heard that people are your best asset? Yet when someone goes on maternity leave (or shared parental leave) many businesses seem to forget what they have invested and let them slip away rather than keeping them engaged in their business.

During my current maternity leave I have done my fair share of baby groups and coffee catch ups with fellow new Mums. Alongside the chat about sleep (or lack thereof) feeding, and baby activities the most common topic of conversation is going back to work …. or not as seems to be the case.

While there are a few Mums who decided going back to the work simply isn’t for them and are taking a break to stay at home with baby a little longer, I am surprised (especially in the current job market) by how many Mums aren’t going back to their employer because they feel going back is just too difficult.

It got me to thinking that somewhere there are an awful lot of businesses who aren’t going to be getting back new Mums after maternity leave and who are going to be losing talented and experienced employees. I can’t help but think what a waste this is and I can’t think of any other assets businesses invest time and money in to simply let them slide away.

So ….. what do businesses need to do to get their staff back after maternity leave? …….

  1. Don’t forget about Mums (and Dad’s) on leave

Baby groups are filled with stories from Mums who have ‘heard on the grapevine’ that that there is a new boss or jobs are being changed, or in the other extreme stories of Mums being in a vacuum of silence, blocked out of their work email accounts and removed from mailing lists who have no clue what’s going on back at the office. Poor communication about what’s going on builds fear and more dangerously assumptions about what work will be like when its back to work time.

I’m lucky while I’ve been off I’ve been invited to team meetings, my boss called me to give me the heads up when staff changed, and my email account was open so (if I wanted to) I could log in and read over the latest company newsletters.

  1. Big stuff going on?……ask those on parental leave if they want input and what they think

If you someone on family leave and there are some meaty decisions to be made which will affect them when they’re back …. ask if they want to be involved. One of the baby group Mums I’ve met manages a nursery and while she was on leave it was given funding by head office for a building facelift and internal renovation. Plans were put together by head office for the work but crucially they contacted the Mum on leave and asked 1) if she wanted to be involved and 2) if she wanted an input.

At the other extreme one of the baby group Mums who manages a team has discovered her team has been restructured and several of her team members made redundant while she’s been off. She hasn’t had input to the new structure, nor has it been explained to her. When she’s spoken to her boss to try and understand it she was told she wouldn’t understand it with ‘baby brain’. She’s actively looking for a new job elsewhere, and that careless comment alone could give rise to a discrimination claim.

  1. Don’t make coming back a hurdle

Let’s face it, it’s hard going back to work at the end of any prolonged absence. New parents have to adjust back into work while they learn to co-ordinate the new child and work routine, babies don’t always settle well into nursery, and it’s an upheaval for babies and parents alike to be apart when they have just spent maternity/parental leave together 24/7.

Offering a little empathy and support in the early days goes a long way. My bosses are happy for me to phase my hours back when maternity leave is over so that baby can phase into nursery and the transition for both of us is softened. Another of my Mum Friend’s employer has planned a work schedule for the first few months to make sure there are minimal nights away and meetings are schedule to start at 9.30 rather than 9 so that no problems are caused if Mum was caught up at a difficult drop off in the first few weeks – Gold stars to that employer (and CitrusHR Consulting ????) you’ll have a very grateful Mums, who feel very valued coming back to you.

  1. Don’t just pay lip service to flexible working requests

Flexible working requests and the idea of part time work in many workplaces still seem to be regarded as troublesome and some businesses still seem to look for ways to say no to flexible working requests rather than looking for ways of making them work.

But I really think businesses loose out here, and I believe a lack of opportunity to work differently is the single biggest factor in new parents not returning to work.

The worst of all the stories I’ve heard has been the Mum who phoned her boss to ask for a copy of the company’s flexible working policy, only to be told she ‘must bear in mind that the company doesn’t like requests for that kind of thing, as they need to know staff are fully committed and that the job is full time so there are lots of reasons that the company could turn a request down’.  The Mum (who simply wanted to cut her working day down by 30 minutes at the start and end of the day to enable her to drop off at a childminder) didn’t bother making a request, she resigned instead. The company lost an experienced, passionate and well-liked member of the company by not even considering the benefits which may come from flexible working.

When it comes to flexible working the benefits to the parent are clear (it allows the returning parent to balance childcare and work). There are however some big benefits to the business, these are more subtle but can include:

  • having a more motivated and committed staff member who stays loyal to you- saving you in recruitment and training costs
  • homeworking can reduce overhead costs
  • job sharing, can add healthy competition, and more creative ideas, as well as practically making holiday cover easier with two heads being better than one
  • more effective staff- part-timers typically work more efficiently as they have more time pressure

All in all as an employer you really don’t need to do much to get your assets back at the end of Maternity leave, please take it from a slightly sleep deprived new mum that a little effort goes a long way.

NB I didn’t meet any new Dads at my various visits to baby groups, so this blog talks about Mums …. but it goes without saying this all applies to the Dads too!

Tara wrote this blog entirely unprompted, and it goes without saying we can’t wait to welcome her back to work soon.