How to help employees get back to work after maternity leave

September is a transitional time with parents across the country pressing uniform pleats as the new term comes around. It’s ‘back to school’ too for Represent Director Grainne Byrne, who has been preparing to get back to her agency job after maternity leave.

Returning to work after having a baby can be challenging. Research shows that one-in-five new mothers and 29% of first-time mothers return to work full-time in the first three years after maternity leave.[1] This is leaving a huge void of talent in the workplace.  In this blog, Grainne shares her experience of returning to work and offers advice to business owners on how to help employees get back to work after maternity leave.

I start this blog with a disclaimer, this is not my first rodeo as I first took maternity leave in 2018. In late 2021, I was getting ready to head off again to have my second child. That’s not to say it was any easier… Here are my top five tips on ways employers can help parents return to work.

Make a winning maternity policy

Every pregnancy is different and comes with challenges and unknowns. One of the most helpful ways HR managers and business owners can support expectant working mothers is to ensure that they have clear maternity policies with accessible information on maternity rights, including information around pay and leave allowances.

Having easy-to-access information on my entitlements allowed me to plan how long I might take off and budget accordingly. This helped me to feel more in control during what can be an uncertain and emotional time. 

It is worth noting that great maternity policies are not only appealing to expectant workers, but they can be key in recruiting talent.

A survey by PRCA revealed 67% of comms professionals are women. However, at a senior level, females make up only a third of the industry. This suggests that many have left the agency world. Agency life has not always been flexible when it comes to balancing working and family life.

If your policy offers additional pay beyond statutory maternity payments or flexible working arrangements for new parents that can be a big draw for working mothers.

At Represent, we have the benefit of hybrid working and flexibility around working hours which makes the childcare and work juggle so much easier for me.

A great return

There is no legal requirement for employees to give notice of their return to work unless they are going back earlier than the end of maternity leave. My HR team kept me right in terms of such deadlines for confirming plans by way of email or letters, so I didn’t have to keep track during an already busy time.

I knew when I wanted to go on maternity leave but was undecided about exactly when I would return. I discussed a rough return timeframe employer to allow my employer to plan and was only obliged to confirm this by law eight weeks prior to going back.

Employers can help working mothers on maternity leave by giving them space to be with their babies while ensuring they are equipped with key details on maternity rights.

It is worth discussing how much contact an employee would like to maintain with colleagues while away. Some employees will want to be kept updated on developments as I did, but might not always be able to respond, and it’s important that those still at work understand this.

I found it comforting to have occasional check-ins with my close-knit team and stay connected but there was never any pressure to keep up!

Transition planning

To ensure a smooth move away from the business for a while, I worked closely with my line manager and colleagues on a transition plan and handover to phase my exit from the business.

We spent about 3 months working on this to ensure client plans were mapped out for the next 6 to 12 months as much as possible and that colleagues were well briefed on all key accounts. Team structures were adapted to support upcoming changes and clients were fully briefed on who would be doing what. I met with all clients in person or virtually to ensure a good transition.

Having a good handover gives everyone peace of mind and allows changes to take place gradually so there are no sudden changes or surprises.

No mother left behind

Part of my maternity planning process included a review with my superior to discuss current work and future career goals post-baby no. 2. This was hugely motivating and made me feel valued. Despite going out of the company for a bit I would be able to return and progress my career.

So many women can experience career stagnation after having a child, particularly if they do not return to work immediately after maternity leave. Research reveals they are three times more likely to return to lower-paid or lower-responsibility work.[2]

Employers can ensure that no mother is left behind by having career development meetings and putting plans in place before maternity leave happens to ensure they can progress. This action is also vital in ensuring that we don’t lose a huge pool of talented women in the workplace.

Keep in Touch time

The transition back to work can feel daunting for new mothers. Big changes are afoot and there is so much to figure out from childcare to family schedules, not to mention weaning and teething!  

I found it helpful to phase my return by making use of the ten statutory Keeping in Touch (KIT) days to which new parents are entitled. These are dedicated hours and days for those on maternity leave that can be used to (do exactly what it says on the tin) keep in touch with the team, the business, and the work.

These can be used in a range of ways as agreed with your employer. I used mine over two months to attend training, a new business meeting, and do several full days at work to get back into the swing of things while my baby adjusted to their childcare settings. My team used this time to start reallocating work and bring me gradually back to client-side work.

One of the best ways employers can get the most out of KIT time is to work on an onboarding plan and ensure the whole team is aware of plans for reintegrating their colleague. This aids a smooth return and helps the individual get off to a good start. My lovely team held a welcome-back lunch for me which was a great way for us to reconnect and catch up outside of the office.

While parenthood is filled with unknowns, having considered exit and return plans for someone going on maternity leave can provide a roadmap to make their journey a lot less daunting. Get your maternity policy right and you’ll not only be able to retain talented working parents, but you will also attract a new bunch!

Information on maternity rights can be found here. To find out about working with Represent, see our careers page here.

[1] Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth, Government Equalities Office, October 2019

[2] Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth, Government Equalities Office, October 2019

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