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We recently looked at the potential benefits of flexible working, and how to go about introducing it into the workplace.
One of the main user groups of flexible working practices, short and long term, are women returning to work after maternity leave – with an estimated 70% of mothers currently in paid employment – three times as many as 60 years ago.
As any working mother will tell you, the decision to return to work is invariably an anxious one, and the constant juggling act between career and family life always a challenge. Employers, and even colleagues, might also be concerned about the impact that this will have upon an employee’s work, and may even hold biases (conscious or unconscious) about a woman’s subsequent career progression or willingness to take on the more intense projects.
But supporting these women back into the workplace, and helping them to manage this juggling act, not only helps individual employees to achieve a positive work life balance, but also has clear business benefits in helping to draw on this broad talent pool, and of course, a wealth of experience.
However, it isn’t just flexibility around working hours that helps to smooth reintegration into the business. Both the employee and employer have a role to play in aiding the process, which actually starts before maternity leave even begins, and extends for several years after day one back in the office.
In addition to having strong flexible working options, employers can also help parents by:
- Ensuring your business has clear maternity, paternity, and adoption policies.
- Maintaining contact during maternity leave to help the individual to continue to feel part of the team.
- Offering childcare vouchers to help with the cost of childcare.
- Allocating designated areas for expressing milk for breastfeeding mothers.
- Providing the employee with mentoring or coaching on their return – this will not only help them to be clear about their career path, but will also mean they feel supported in achieving it.
- Establishing clear lines of communication in a manner that promotes an honest dialogue and addresses any biases (perceived or not) as necessary.
If you are a mother due to return to work, make sure you:
- Are clear about why you are going back to work, and what you want to achieve from your career.
- Set regular meetings to discuss progress and talk about any issues, including a review of your career plan after two months.
- Don’t make any major decisions about your career in the first two months after returning to work.
Making the employer/employee relationship work when there are children involved is much like any relationship – it takes work, effort, consideration and understanding. If both parties do their best to contribute these things then everyone will reap the long-term benefits.