Supporting maternity leave transitions – is your manager prepared?
You’ve found out that you’re pregnant and are excited to share the news with your family but then you realise… you’re going to have to tell your line manager too! GULP!
The worry that your line manager will view it as bad timing for the team or the business, the fear that any promotion opportunities will be withdrawn or pushed aside or even what it means for your role when you want to return.
A mum’s experience with her line manager during these conversations can make or break a successful return to work for both parties. Alongside breaking the pregnancy news initially, a large amount of worry is placed on having the first conversation about returning to work. Whether it be arranging KIT days, flexible working arrangements around childcare, reduced hours, adapting the role or even changing roles completely.
Women who report bad experiences of these conversations are likely to be managed by someone who is uncertain about the process for their expectant mums or are worried about what they should or shouldn’t do, what they can and can not ask, or simply don’t know how they can help.
Line managers may want to support their expectant mums and plan for a successful return but if they are poorly prepared to support them through their parental leave and return to work, their mums are likely to walk and seek a position elsewhere where they do feel valued and supported. Losing talent can be a big hit for organisations and is bad for business, with the costs to hire and train a replacement extremely costly.
So, what can organisations do to prevent this?
Deliver training or create a toolkit
Understanding why it’s important to retain female talent and how to approach conversations is not something line managers will just ‘know’. Providing training is essential so line managers can be given the tools they need to confidently communicate any policies or processes to expectant mums in the lead up to maternity leave as well as for their return. Without any training in place, messages will be inconsistent or completely wrong.
Raise awareness of unconscious biases
Line managers should receive training that raises awareness in relation to unconscious biases around maternity leave and working parents. There’s an assumption that mothers returning to work part-time or on flexible hours around childcare do not have the same levels of commitment or ambition, which can have a massive impact on the way mums are treated and on their career progression. Understanding how biases like this may impact their management style and communication towards mums is vital.
Keep employees engaged throughout leave
A common feeling amongst returning mums is that they felt forgotten about during their leave by their employers, which made the transition back a lot harder. Having open conversations beforehand about whether their mums would like to be kept updated about company events or social gatherings, how often they’d like to be contacted and by what method (e.g., email only) makes the return-to-work conversation a lot easier for both parties. Keeping communication doors open can really help with reintegration and handling emotions.