Research by Dublin City University Business School discovered that how a mother’s time away is viewed by both a line manager and the company as a whole is critical in determining their return success. Businesses that view maternity leave as a brief interlude in a woman’s career rather than a major disruption are more likely to retain high-performing mothers.
The study of 300 women, which was the first of its kind in the UK to focus on perspectives surrounding motherhood at work, found that a lack of communication between managers, unconscious bias and career derailment were all concerns for returning mums. 67 per cent felt ‘enthusiastic’ while on maternity leave, but only 40 per cent continued to feel this way after their first day back. Elsewhere, 35 per cent felt ‘inspired’ while on leave, but this fell to 27 per cent upon their return to their day job.
Meanwhile, another report carried out by Slater and Gordon highlighted that just one in ten mothers take a full year’s maternity leave, with many worried that they will put their careers at risk if they take extended breaks.
Of course, it’s illegal for employers to unfavourably treat workers in these cases, but many employees clearly still feel that their bosses aren’t supportive and worry that they won’t have a job to come back to.
And for the time that they are on maternity leave – either preparing for childbirth or looking after a new baby – around a fifth of women have admitted they felt the need to regularly check emails, take calls and even go into the office.
So how should companies go about supporting both pregnant staff and returning-to-work mothers? The NCT offers a huge amount of advice – here are some key take-aways:
• Consider the business case for flexible working.
• As well as agreeing on formal KIT (Keeping In Touch) days, keep more informal communication open, but to suit the parent.
• Arrange a first day welcome for the returning parent.
• Provide lots of positive feedback to rebuild confidence.
• Be aware of other factors that may affect performance, such as postnatal depression.
Director, Successful Mums
At Successful Mums we have supported over 5,000 women back at work after maternity leave. However, as well as supporting mums, we are frequently asked by employers how they can retain and attract female talent after a career break.
We commissioned a survey to ask these women “what do you want when returning to work after having a baby?” which over 800 women completed in a matter of days.
Some very sad experiences were shared, but also some wonderful positive experiences that demonstrated that if employers can get the return process right it can be productive for both returning women and their employers.
The results clearly show that a positive experience for these women is not just good for mums, it’s good for business and productivity. The key message for employers is that ‘softer’, personal support – such as ‘welcome back’ drinks, regular catch-up meetings and introductions to new members of staff – can be just as important as the practical steps of offering flexible working or a gradual return.
These small, personal touches show that employers understand and appreciate returning mums and their experiences and can help to make them feel more comfortable, welcome and respected, and therefore are more likely to retain and also attract additional talent.