Nearly one in five (18 percent) working mothers have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down.
In a buoyant labour market, where despite uncertainty around Brexit, employers are continuing to recruit, we need all talent we can get. Helping women returning from maternity leave back into the workplace seems a sensible ploy but a lack of flexible working opportunities is a major factor preventing women from progressing at work.
Rachel Suff, employment adviser at the CIPD, suggests that employers should make every effort to accommodate flexible working requests and discuss what could work to retain a new mother – the cost of re-recruitment and training should serve as a strong disincentive to losing working parents.
Of course, working mothers are not the only employees likely to want flexible work, most of us are likely to want to flex our hours at some point. Technology makes it so much easier to work flexibly and it makes no sense for employers to be so resistant to flexible work.
All round benefits
Viewed in the round, such arrangements benefit employers too. Flexible work helps to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and enhance employee engagement and loyalty. It can increase the pool of applicants for vacancies and aid the retention of experienced and skilled staff already in post.
Matthew Taylor’s recent review of the labour market suggests that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers might be addressed through the consolidation of advice and information for both women and employers. It recommends the Government to consider options for legislative intervention to prevent maternity and pregnancy discrimination if non-legislative methods are unsuccessful in bringing about a culture-change.
There are a lot of skilled women who would like to return to work, a large talent pool that we should not overlook. We need those women at work, research shows a link between gender diversity and profitability. Forward thinking organisations embrace policies that encourage working mothers back into the workplace, but at present too many focus on presenteeism and clock watching. If the organisation measures who is doing a good job by how much time they spend in the office then they are missing a trick.
Working mothers who face difficulty in sourcing affordable and accessible childcare need access to flexible start and finish times, the opportunity to increase or decrease hours when childcare provision changes or the ability to work from home when necessary. Our workplace cultures need to change, to ensure that parents can work sensible hours and contribute meaningfully to their children’s care.
Make it easy
Returning to work after maternity leave can be stressful; motivations to return vary, for those with permanent jobs there is a contractual obligation and usually an economic necessity once maternity pay finishes. In addition, for many of us work is a big part of our identity and for the career-minded the return to work should not mean a diminution of their prospects or loss of control over their working lives.
There are some simple things that will help both employer and new mother:
- Stay in touch with the employee on maternity leave to help her maintain contact with the workplace and ease her return to work.
- Ensure her workstation is ready for her return and that she has the materials necessary to do her job.
- Take time to update the employee and discuss training needs or support needed to get her back up to speed with her job.
- Discuss any changes needed to her workload if the employee is returning on reduced hours.
I also have some advice for a new mother returning to work:
- It takes around three months to settle back in, so don’t put pressure on yourself.
- There will have been changes while you were away, so get someone to fill you in and introduce you to new staff.
- Don’t over-do the baby talk, show your colleagues you are committed to the job.
- Have confidence in yourself – motherhood has added to your skillset.