Ruth Moody
September 22, 2023

Return to work plans built for the Jurassic age?

Let me ask you a question; when was the last time you reviewed your company plan or policy for mums returning after being on maternity leave?

I ask because, if you want to be able to retain your talent within the business, that plan has got to be effective in making working mothers feel secure, confident and empowered in returning, as well as ensuring they have the tools to really excel in the job.

The more I work with organisations and working mothers, the more apparent it is that too many businesses still have archaic attitudes towards getting the best from their people, and in particular their return to work mums.

Taking a deep dive into what policies you have in place that help support your working mothers can be a good place to start. Beyond that, it’s about transforming your entire approach as an organisation around how mothers are perceived and supported when returning from maternity leave, as well as challenging traditional and outdated views towards working mums that can have a really negative impact.

1. Step away from rigid working options and make a move to more flexible working
Requests for flexible working might be becoming more commonplace, but a lot of businesses are still sitting on the fence.

Many still have concerns that levels of productivity will drop when flexible working is introduced, though studies tell us otherwise. While 1 in 3 flexible working requests were rejected pre-COVID, 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work according to the CIPD.

Thankfully, the new Flexible Working Bill stands to give employees improved protections, but for a lot of return-to-work mums, flexible working isn’t just a nice-to-have but the only way they can juggle childcare and caring responsibilities. In fact, a 2021 TUC survey found that 92% of mothers who worked flexibly would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.

If you’re not offering flexible working options to returning mothers – and I’m talking on a practical level, not just one that is written into policy – can you really afford to lose those women from your business?

2. Recognise your return-to-work mums and make them feel seen
It’s incredible how much of an impact working culture can have on returning mothers’ confidence levels and sense of self-worth.

If we want return-to-work mums to stay in their jobs, it’s crucial that we create working cultures that are inclusive of parents and understanding of their responsibilities and juggles. Take for instance the pressure to not be the first one to leave the office for the nursery pick-up, or having to make excuses when a child is ill; these are all still part and parcel of the job for a lot of working parents which is a change that needs to happen if your workplace is to become truly inclusive.

If presenteeism is still part of the culture within your organisation then that is a definite red flag! Normalising childcare struggles as part of the conversation, being open to staff working flexibly in the office and recognising working mothers as exactly that – parents! – is all key to making return to work mums feel seen at work.

3. Refuse to write them off
There’s a really archaic misconception that sadly still exists that working mothers are only really half at work when they’re in the office and that their priorities and aspirations aren’t the same anymore.

Of course, the mums that return will have gone through a huge event and shift in their lives, but that doesn’t mean that their capabilities are any less, or that their drive and passion for the job have diminished.

In fact, new mums tend to have a whole host of strengths and assets that aren’t easily found when recruiting; skills such as multitasking, prioritising, time-management, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and the list goes on.

In my experience, it’s also very often the case that their aspirations haven’t changed since returning and actually their desire to advance in their career is as strong as ever. The only difference is that they see more obstacles in their way to progressing.

Investing in your return to work mums is a great way to show your commitment to them and the value you see in them, whether it’s through further training, leadership and career coaching or giving them clear career pathways to work towards.

If you’re interested in building a culture that embraces women coming back to the workplace after maternity leave, and enables you to retain your returning mothers for the long haul, please do just get in touch - I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you and discuss some changes you might be able to make.

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