Maternity leave
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Four ways to support employees during maternity leave and on their return

Working parents need and deserve strategic, long-term support in the workplace. On this blog we’ve previously covered successfully navigating the early stages of planning for employee maternity leave. Here’s how you can better support employees while they’re on maternity leave and on their return to work.

Combating maternity discrimination

When maternity is poorly managed it doesn’t just hurt employees, it’s costly for employers too. Pregnancy, maternity leave and the early years of parenting can be a career-critical time. Without adequate support strategies in place, employers risk failing to develop talent, and losing valuable employment skills when employees choose not to return. And as it becomes more common for women in senior positions to begin their families in later life, organisations also need to give serious thought to support for new mothers at executive levels within the company.

Earlier this month, Citizens Advice reported a 25% rise in people seeking advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination over the past year. Four out of five of these cases related to problems at work, and largely involved women having their working hours cut, being put on zero-hours contracts, being pressured to return to work early or being forced out of their jobs. Clearly, these are extreme cases and ones that any responsible employer would take pains to avoid. However, it is important that employees on or returning from maternity or shared parental leave (SPL) benefit from good planning, support and communication; and line managers play a vital role in this.

Managing an employee during maternity leave and on their return

The Bank Workers Charity (BWC) and Working Families have produced a helpful guide (which you can download here) outlining clear sets of behaviours to help managers provide strategic support to working mothers. Below are five ways to help you better manage an employee during maternity leave and on their return to work.

  1. Deciding on a plan for communication
    The first two weeks of maternity leave after a baby is born are compulsory, and it’s illegal for you to ask the mother to do anything that might constitute work. If the baby is born early triggering maternity leave before your employee’s planned date, now is definitely not the time to schedule an in-depth discussion regarding outstanding work. Once it is appropriate, get in touch to discuss the type and amount of information she wants to receive while she’s on leave, for example whether she wants to be kept in the loop with regular updates or just wants to be notified about critical company-wide developments and opportunities for career progression. Keeping in touch will also help you plan for her return to work, as you’re more likely to have a good idea if she’s likely to return to work early, on a reduced-hours basis, or not at all.
  1. Keeping her up to date during maternity leave
    Under normal circumstances, if a woman returns to work during her maternity leave this automatically triggers the end of her leave. If her partner takes SPL, however, she may choose to work for a period before returning to SPL when her partner goes back to work. Keeping in touch (KIT) days are the other exception to this rule, and provide a way for women to return to work for up to ten days during their paid maternity leave. KIT days are voluntary and can be used for any purpose, such as helping your employee stay up to date with relevant key activities. You could use these for offering training on relevant developments, introductions to new clients, planning projects she’s likely to be involved in, or completing projects she worked on before her absence.
  1. Helping to ease the transition back to work
    Good planning and communication during maternity leave can help ease the potentially challenging transition of returning to work. It’s a good idea to have a candid return-to-work conversation where you can make her aware of her options for flexible working and any support your organisation offers for working parents (e.g. a family network, employee assistance programme or childcare assistance). You may also wish to consider a phased return which would allow her to gradually introduce childcare while getting up to speed after her absence.
  1. Setting performance objectives and considering career progression
    Shortly after your employee returns to work, it’s important to discuss and agree her performance objectives for the remainder of the year. You may need to consider and appropriately adjust these if she’s working part time or from home. It’s also important to ensure that if she works flexibly or needs to take time away from work for family reasons this does not have a negative impact on her career progression. To avoid this, you may need to clearly communicate career development opportunities to her before, during and after maternity leave. You should also give consideration to maternity returners whenever you’re scheduling development opportunities, or are involved in internal recruitment or talent management.

 
The more support you give employees during this period of huge change within their personal lives, the more likely you’ll be to have successful, engaged returners in your team.