Five ways to effectively plan for employee maternity leave
Working mothers have a lot to deal with; it’s not really surprising that they’re likely to be less dependable than their childless counterparts. After all, they have children to look after. It’s a good thing then, that working fathers tend to be more stable and hard-working than their child-free colleagues. After all, they have a family to support.
See the problem with this picture?
This bias, known as the maternal wall, is wrapped up in the dated view of fathers as breadwinners and mothers as caregivers. And thanks to it, working mothers, regardless of their ability or motivation, are less likely to be perceived as competent at work, less likely to be hired, and more likely to suffer discrimination when it comes to pay rises and responsibilities. Recent analysis from the Fawcett Society showed a gap of £5,732 – that’s a staggering 24% – in the average full-time annual salaries of men and women.
Working parents getting a bad deal
Though this outdated view of parenting disproportionally affects working mothers, it’s not always easy for working fathers. Last year’s Modern Families Index found that 36% of working fathers would rather pull a sickie than tell their boss they need time off to look after their children. The survey also found half of fathers were nervous about requesting a reduction in their hours, while 34% said they would feel uncomfortable asking if they could miss work for a family event.
So, we have hard-working employees who are given less respect simply because of their status as a working parent. And we have valued workers who feel their role as a parent is not respected by their employer. This state of affairs is bad for employee engagement and, ultimately, bad for business. Levels of mutual trust between employees and employers require give and take from both sides, and when damaged, greatly affect employee performance.
The importance of line managers in planning for maternity
Yesterday’s International Women’s Day was dedicated to gender parity – the state of being equal, especially around issues like status and pay. The day focused on calls for gender-balanced leadership and for the development of more inclusive and flexible working cultures. As a line manager, you have a critical role to play in ensuring your team members receive the right support as working parents. This includes long-term support across their working lives, as well as, critically, during pregnancy, parental leave and following their return to work.
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 more effectively plan for employee maternity leave.
- Understand that a leaving date is not set in stone
Hold a meeting with your employee early in her pregnancy, and again closer to her due date, to get an idea of when she wants to start her maternity leave. You will need to be flexible and keep in mind that she may decide to leave earlier than originally planned, or that her baby may arrive before it’s expected. At this point, it’s useful to start thinking about scheduling work so that projects to which this employee is central don’t clash with the last few weeks of her pregnancy. Make sure you discuss these issues with your employee, however, rather than simply making assumptions about what she will and won’t be able to do.
- Be clear on your company’s policies
Ensure your employee understands your company’s maternity policy (amount of leave and pay, impact on benefits etc.) and the notifications she’s required to give. Explain her options in respect of shared parental leave, bearing in mind that this is a relatively new (and complex) scheme, and employees may not be familiar with it. Make sure she also knows her options for extending her maternity leave if she so wishes.
- Make a plan for keeping in contact
It’s important to mutually agree a level of contact for when she goes on leave. Does she want to receive regular updates on company developments, or be informed only about critical developments and those which will impact her personally? She shouldn’t feel bombarded with communications while taking time out of the workplace, but neither should she feel disengaged from the organisation. Be clear that if she does feel uncomfortable with the level of contact during her maternity leave, she should let you know and you will adjust it accordingly.
- Think about future working conditions
Begin the discussion about her options for returning to work such as the option to request a flexible working pattern (e.g. part-time, flexible or remote). Have an initial, informal discussion about when she might plan to return to work after her leave and/or if she is planning to share leave with a partner. Keep in mind that any discussions at this stage are non-binding. Make this clear to your employee, as she may feel differently about existing plans after her baby arrives.
- Plan for appraisals and progression
It’s important to ensure that taking time away from work does not have a negative impact on your employee’s career progression. If you normally carry out performance appraisals, particularly if these impact on pay rises and/or bonuses, it’s a good idea to carry one out shortly before your employee starts her maternity leave. This will ensure that any information is accurately captured while it’s fresh, and that your employee is treated fairly. Consider also how you will deal with opportunities for career development that may arise while she is on leave.
Becoming a working parent is a significant change for both employees and their managers. The sooner you start to prepare for this transition, the easier it will be.