Planning for maternity leave can be just as daunting for an employer as it is for the employee. High-caliber, valued employees will be missed, however necessary and exciting the reason they go on leave. But employers who manage maternity leave as proactively and positively as possible are more likely to achieve a gender-balanced workforce and to attract and retain talented employees after they’ve had children.
Here are some of our top tips on planning for maternity leave with a focus on keeping the employee, and their teams, feeling engaged, supported, and valued throughout.
1. Don’t delay making plans
Start discussions and begin planning as soon as possible. This will help ensure a smoother process and ensure everyone feels supported. It could also prevent any recruitment mistakes if you do decide to appoint maternity cover, as you won’t be doing it in a rush.
2. Gather key information
Before you make any decisions, sit down with the employee and get a full understanding of their current role and any upcoming projects. Involve their line manager in the discussions if needed. People’s roles tend to evolve, especially in small businesses where they can be diverse with lots of different responsibilities. Use the opportunity to ask the colleague for their suggestions on the best cover option. What do they think would work best? What, if anything, are they most concerned about being successfully completed or maintained while they are on leave?
3. Consider all options
The best cover option will depend on the job role, seniority level, nature of work, size of the team, etc. Potential options include covering the role internally by sharing out work among colleagues. Careful consideration needs to be given to the rest of the team before taking this approach. Make sure the extra workload would be manageable and won’t cause resentment which could impact on the engagement and retention of other talented employees. If this is an idea you want to explore, be transparent and involve all colleagues who would be affected so they can see they are being considered.
An internal cover could also be created by having an existing employee step up into the position and recruiting a temporary employee to fill their role during this time. One of the advantages of this is that the employee who steps up will have plenty of existing experience and internal knowledge. But consideration needs to be given to how the employee feels about this and how it will impact them when their colleague returns from leave. Alternatively, you may decide that the best option is to recruit maternity cover externally.
4. External recruitment support
If you’ve never recruited on a maternity basis before, it may seem like a daunting process. Interim and maternity leave recruitment is one of the areas in which professional recruitment agencies can add value. At Pure, one of our specialisms is temporary recruitment, and we regularly place candidates in maternity fixed-term contracts or short-term roles. Our expert consultants can guide employers through everything, from administration to understanding the regulations around short-term contracts.
5. Plan for smooth transitions
When recruiting temporary employees to cover maternity, factor in some handover time for them to spend with the person they will be filling in for before they go on leave. This makes the transition period much smoother for all involved. It’s also worth doing the same when the employee returns to the business, so they have time to spend with the person who has been covering their role. This could also help to support a phased return process in which the employee initially starts back one or two days a week and builds back up to their contracted hours.
6. Discuss how to keep in touch
Whatever cover option you choose, don’t forget about your existing employee while they are gone. As an employer you have a responsibility to keep in touch, telling them about any changes which could affect them and ensuring they receive all the benefits of their normal terms of employment. Beyond this, discuss with the employee how much contact they would like while on maternity leave. How and when would they like to be contacted? What information they’d like to receive? Open lines of communication are key to maintaining a good relationship and engagement levels on return. As part of maternity leave employees are also entitled to up to 10 paid Keep in Touch or KIT days.
There are no obligations on either side to do KIT days and no hard and fast rules on what these days should entail. For a start, they don’t even have to be full days. But they can be very beneficial and can be used for the employee to join team away days, training courses, conferences, or team meetings.