According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 625,008 babies born in England and Wales in 2021. Despite the many challenges faced during the pandemic, it seemed the UK population didn’t stop growing their families, and many new mums experienced maternity leave for the first time.
With this in mind, how can businesses best support mothers on their return to work? There are a number of important steps in the return-to-work process that businesses should be mindful of to help ensure a smooth return to working life.
A successful return to work actually starts with the maternity leave itself. Maintaining regular, yet informal contact with anyone on leave allows both parties to remain connected, makes a return seem less daunting and keeps both parties up to date with the others’ situation. It can be helpful to address and agree how you will communicate with each other whilst on leave so there are no surprises and everyone knows where they stand.
After maintaining healthy levels of communication throughout the maternity leave, it is crucial a business support the mother in a phased or gradual return to work. Often a useful way to ease employees back in are KIT (Keeping in Touch) days. Phased return also serves a dual purpose in that it can also help returning staff to utilise those accrued holidays in a way that benefits both the individual and the business.
The risks on return
As per the government guidelines eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks maternity leave, however many couples are now splitting their maternity leave, including paternity leave now being granted. This means many new mums are returning around or even before the 6-month mark.
In instances when a mother returns in less than six months, or she has informed her employer that she is breast-feeding, a risk assessment is often required. This allows employers to capture any support needs the mother has in preparation for her return.
Section 25(4) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) requires employers to provide suitable and sufficient facilities for workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding to rest, and the most common risks can include:
- Standing or sitting for long periods
- Lifting or carrying heavy loads
- Working at height
- Workstation and posture issues
- Workplace stress
Some mothers choose to return to work part time. Returning to a part-time working contract doesn’t mean in any way that new mums are less interested in the career they had before they had a baby. Embracing part time working often enables women who may otherwise leave their careers to continue working and to continue adding value to your business. Supporting part-time working will also often build loyalty and engagement from an individual who may otherwise have had to make the difficult decision to leave the job.
Joanne Wong, Client Personal Assistant in Progeny Wealth, recently returned to work part time after maternity leave.
“As a mum of two, I was nervous in returning back to work. Since my priorities have changed, it means I had to change my contract to part-time work. Throughout the process of returning, my manager worked closely with the HR team and was very supportive and the continuous communication has been reassuring. Utilising my KIT days has helped immensely on adjusting and slowly returning to work.
“Reviewing the past year, it has been challenging with balancing family with a 4 year old and a 10 month old, but the flexible working has enabled me to work from home as it not only allows me to be the best mum I can be, but also to resume and follow my goals and objectives in the industry.”
On the topic of resuming those goals within the industry, for any business seeking to develop and progress its employees it’s also important there is no discrimination involved for those mothers integrating back into working life and development. Businesses must ensure that training and development opportunities continue to be accessible, giving consideration to the fact that people are sometimes unable to attend out-of-hours sessions, or travel for training or events.
Weaning back on
Gemma Schofield, Academy Supervisor, discloses her teething problems and the way the business supported her integration back into the Training and Competence team after she returned from maternity leave.
“I was excited to return to work and as my partner and I had decided to do shared parental leave, I came back after six months and I thought I’d be fine, six months is no time at all. How wrong was I? I’d been through one of the biggest changes in life, becoming a parent. My team had changed completely and there were so many faces around the office that I didn’t recognise, I was the new girl again!”
This is where constant communication throughout the maternity leave between the company and the mother plays an important part in creating a stress-free return to the work environment, as Gemma experienced.
“In case I came back feeling uncertain about my role and the pressure of completing exams with a six-month-old baby, my manager confirmed Progeny would find a role for me and support me to make it work. It was this level of support that made me realise I was going to be fine, the feelings of uncertainty I was experiencing and lack of confidence were completely normal and I needed to just give myself some time.”
“My schedule is pretty hectic, juggling being a mum, studying for exams and working full time is not easy… but with the level of support I receive from my manager/co-workers and working alongside other working parents, it’s not only completely manageable but enjoyable!”
If you need any advice on providing the right support within your business for mothers and those returning to work from maternity leave, please contact Charlotte Hudson and the team.