Only 15% of mothers return to full-time work within five years of having a baby¹. In addition, over half of new mums don’t feel they have the confidence to return to work after maternity leave². Of course, having a new baby is a stressful time, which can impact on a parent’s work. And there are childcare issues to take into account. But clearly there is more that companies can do to support and encourage their staff to come back to their job role.
We know that when employees are given support they are much more likely to return to their post. In fact, 86% of mothers who have access to family friendly options from their employer return to work after having a baby, compared with just 42% who have no options³. This is a huge difference highlighting just how much influence an employer has over their retention of staff.
So what can companies do to support their employees on maternity leave and make them feel confident in returning to work?
1.Keep in touch
Often employees feel out of the loop for long periods of time during maternity leave, which can contribute to them losing confidence or feeling like the company is evolving without them. Taking a proactive approach to keeping in touch with staff on leave can make a huge difference, allowing them to stay on top of any important changes to the business. In addition, it can help to maintain their grasp on the work, hopefully cutting the adjustment period for when they officially return to their role.
Many companies will book in regular dates for those on leave to come into the office or join video conferencing calls, which can help them to feel like they’re still a part of the team. That said, managers are frequently unaware of how to make the most of these dates. There is also a gap in understanding of the legal rights of those on leave. Regular training can help to close these gaps and help managers use these days more effectively for the business. It’s also worth asking those on leave how they would like to keep in touch and work with them to achieve this.
2. Highlight the value of retention
Managers also might not be aware of how important staff retention is to their business, which can impact on how they approach and value their staff on leave. Therefore, it’s worth regularly reiterating the value of retention in real terms to leaders around your organisation. For instance, the business cost of replacing an employee on the average UK salary can be up to £12,000, once you take into account recruitment costs, interviewing, onboarding and lost productivity4. This figure can increase exponentially for more senior positions on bigger salaries and doesn’t take into account the effect staff turnover has on productivity, experience and morale. Investing in your people can significantly improve the bottom line of your organisation and this needs to be drilled into those responsible for parents on leave.
3. Embrace flexible working
Ask any parent what they want from their employer and you’re likely to hear the word ‘flexibility’. Having young children can create demands on your time and schedule that are not negotiable, so flexible working is a must for many new parents. Lots of companies have flexible working policies in place, but don’t combine this with creating a culture where flexible working is embraced. Often, employees don’t know the process for requesting flexible working and managers are discouraged from offering it to their team. Just because flexibility is formally on offer, the culture around flexibility in the organisation will determine its usage, so it needs to be normalised by senior leaders.
For any companies wanting to better promote flexible working, try training line managers to proactively ask employees whether they want it – don’t expect them to have the confidence to bring it up. It could also be worth adding new training for managers themselves on the benefits of flexible working for parents and non-parents alike, which could shift any reservations they may have. Offering and promoting flexibility for returners can make a huge difference to whether they come back to their previous role, or whether they find one elsewhere that better suits their schedule.
4. Make them feel valued
Unfortunately, many women on leave feel like a burden to their company or feel threatened by their maternity cover. To combat this, it’s worth making a conscious effort to make them feel valued. Highlight to those on leave, and all employees generally, the company benefits and perks that are available to them. Often they’ve already been paid for and yet many go unused and unappreciated purely because they don’t know that they exist. If you have any benefits that support women during pregnancy, or those with young children, encourage them to use them. In addition, if you’re able to invest in coaching or psychological support for those returning to work, these programmes can considerably improve the confidence and retention of those coming back from maternity leave. It’s also essential that those on leave have access to all their contract policies and benefits information whilst they’re taking a break from the company, be it via an intranet or online HR portal, or they won’t get used.