This is a guest post from Kristen Craft, VP of Marketing at Ovia Health.
Every loss of talent is a blow to a team. Companies spend time and resources to recruit the best people, incorporate them into the team, and rely on their skill and drive to make the company the best it can be. When great team members leave, it hurts.
In particular, a lack of support after maternity leave can lead to major talent losses at a company. According to a study by KPMG, global companies spend up to $47 billion recruiting and training new team members to replace women who leave after having a baby.
There’s no way this is sustainable for business or successful for team building. But it’s avoidable if you take the right steps.
Create an Environment for Success
Sheryl Sandberg cites that “43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time” in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. A strong company can’t afford to lose this amount of talent when mothers feel like their workplace doesn’t support their return to work.
Support and motivation for team members after maternity leave is a huge component of maintaining a strong and successful team. Companies have to show they understand new mothers’ needs and create an environment that encourages success. They can do this with:
- More flexible hours and positions
- Clear communication of expectations
- Structures for support within the team
Let’s go through why each of these is so important to retention and success after maternity leave, and how companies can start building these workplace features right away.
It’s All About Control Over the Schedule
Companies need to be aware that new mothers have an entirely new schedule to manage.
Julia Beck, founder of Forty Weeks, said that new mothers come back with a whole new identity. Sometimes employers aren’t expecting this, which is part of the reason for high attrition after maternity leave.
The “new identity” of returning mothers refers to:
- New responsibilities they have to manage
- New concerns they have at work and at home
- New commitments that they didn’t have before they left for maternity leave
These responsibilities, concerns, and commitments didn’t exist before they left for leave. For example, many women are still breastfeeding and/or pumping when they return to work. But now they are a very real part of returning mothers’ lives. It can be tricky (not to mention socially awkward!) for an employee to build pumping time into her schedule. Supporting these team members means helping them balance these new aspects of their life so they can coincide with productivity and fulfillment at work.
A huge part of this balance is managing a schedule. Returning mothers need control over their own schedules, both in their places of work and at home.
Put It in Action
There are concrete steps a company can take to make sure team members returning from maternity leave have options for flexible hours and flexible positions. Many companies are already leading the charge on this, and they’re providing great examples that other companies can follow:
- Offer full salary for reduced hours: This is a big statement that a company expects a team member to need more flexibility when returning from leave. Vodaphone offers women working at all levels full pay for a 30-hour work week—in addition to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
- Offer alternatives for positions that have significant time and travel demands: A returning mother can return to an internal staff role or a client-facing role without travel for a fixed amount of time while adjusting to work again, before returning to their previous position. In 2015, Strategy& adopted this policy that automatically gave team members access to take on a more family-friendly role for six months after returning from maternity leave.
- Offer paternal leave along with maternal leave: A company can offer both maternal and paternal leave. Not only is this more inclusive to all partnerships, it gives both partners the chance to take time off and allows partners to take time off asynchronously if necessary. This can reduce the stress on the partner returning to work. Netflix announced a maternal and paternal leave policy in 2015 that enables new moms and dads to take off as much paid time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
- Pay attention to the “small stuff”: Recognize that new parents may have to shift their schedule to accommodate childcare timing. Don’t schedule meetings that run past 5 pm. Also be sensitive to the fact that back-to-back meetings (or meetings that run over their allocated time,) make it difficult for nursing mothers to pump when they need to.
Companies can support and empower their returning team members by setting an expectation that flexibility is necessary. They can communicate that for a set time period when team members return, they should expect to work more flexible hours in a family-friendly position. By communicating this before team members go on maternity leave, companies can expect that their team members will feel confident and supported coming back.
They Need to Know What’s Needed
Scheduling and prioritizing go hand in hand. A team member returning from maternity leave will have a new way to prioritize home life, and will feel accomplished and rewarded when they can take care of what’s most important to them.
It’s essential that you create the same system of priorities and accomplishments in the workplace for a returning team member to feel fulfilled.
Sloughing away for hours, days, and weeks on a series of seemingly endless tasks can be demoralizing. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to feel accomplished and proud when a big undertaking is completed. Though it is important to provide internal motivation for all employees, it’s specifically necessary for new mothers returning from maternity leave who are figuring out where their work fits in their new work-life balance.
Put It in Action
Vague instruction, poor communication about deadlines, and unclear expectations can be stressful and discouraging. Returning team members should be able to accomplish what’s needed and feel good about their contribution. But in order for that to happen, companies have to clearly state what their work involves:
- Assign discrete projects to returning employees: Closed-end projects with clear milestones and deadlines make it easy for a returning employee to track their progress and see that their work is making a difference. They can work with a specific goal in mind and can prioritize exactly what needs to be done in order to meet goals and deadlines. These priorities in turn can help the team member make progress at work while also figuring out how to leave the office on time, how to plan time for doctor’s appointments, and how to juggle other commitments.
- Make communication with management accessible: The feeling of being thrown back into the workplace when you’ve missed time is daunting. Returning team members may feel anxious about continuing a high performance when they may not be up-to-date on important information. When managers are accessible to answer questions and provide help, it can ease a lot of this stress and help team members do better work.
- Celebrate accomplishments in the workplace: Feeling accomplished is essential to feeling motivated to continue taking on projects and doing more great work. Acknowledge deadlines met, praise from clients, and excellent quality work by saying “Cheers” in Slack, taking team members for lunch, and giving raises when appropriate.
Make expectations very clear and acknowledge when those expectations are met to make work a fulfilling place for returning mothers.
Turn the Workplace into a Resource
A company has the potential to be a strong community and support base for returning mothers.
Chances are, there are other team members who have taken maternity leave and have their own experiences to share. There are probably other parents with children of all ages who can answer questions that nervous new parents may have. A company can create structures for support within the team so that returning team members can automatically take advantage of the community’s knowledge and experience.
A good way for a company to start organizing the community is to understand where working parents sit within their particular organization. Learn about what roles they fill and what their attrition patterns are. Human Resources and management can gather this information through surveys or informal conversation. It’s important to know where working parents fit in the company to help guide new parents to reach a comfortable balance.
Put It in Action
According to the Harvard Business Review, the most effective solutions for creating support within your company are accessible and affordable. Here are some simple ways you can start:
- Provide your team with apps and other resources to support pregnancy and parenthood: Apps like Ovia Health help expecting and new parents get the information they need during pregnancy and early parenthood. Ovia can also help team members understand all of their maternity benefits. When employers provide access to an app, they are giving their team the right information so they can educate themselves.
- Create community groups within the company: A group of interested team members can work with HR to set up a group for mothers and fathers to share experiences and advice with returning team members. Alison Crawford, who runs the Parents @ Uber group, notes that the group has organization-wide support. They have the budget to host regular events, so that parents feel well supported in the workplace. Get the word out with an office-wide or company-wide memo and encourage a monthly meeting. The group can also set up an online forum, like Goldman Sachs’s “Help at Home” intranet bulletin board, to chat between meetings.
- Schedule pre-emptive check-ins: HR and managers can schedule meetings one month, six months, and twelve months after a team member returns to chat about career goals and work-life issues as they arise. This can preemptively address stress that returning team members feel.
Creating support structures for new parents within your company can help returning team members see the company as a resource during early parenthood. It’s also a huge opportunity to bolster overall company culture and make sure your teammates know they can rely on and learn from one another.
Companies Have Responsibility to Build a Supportive Workplace
Helena Morrissey, who was CEO of Newton Investment Management for 15 years, says that there is a shared responsibility for women to “lean in” at work and for corporate culture to be a conducive space that encourages women to do exactly that. A company can make sure that they’re retaining the best talent by creating an environment that supports their team members’ choices in starting a family.
Taking the steps to motivate mothers returning from maternity leave can save a company money, improve the quality of work that the team produces, and build better relationships throughout the team. It’s a win-win situation for the entire team and the future of a company.
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