While most organisations spend heavily on onboarding programs for newcomers and graduate recruits, not as many pay the same level of attention to re-integrating employees after parental leave and ensuring that a career after maternity leave isn’t halted.
Imagine that due to a temporary absence from your workplace, your highest performing team member leaves and joins a competitor. You’re now left with the unenviable job of finding a replacement whilst trying to hold together shaky team dynamics, and yet another female leader fails to make it to the executive level.
The reality for many women reviewing their careers after maternity leave? A loss of career progression, a reduced sense of belonging and dip in confidence. Relationships with senior partners, who they previously worked closely with, are now significantly worsened. Her colleagues, who saw her as capable and confident, no longer hold the same beliefs. Her work life balance is non-existent and she’s worried burnout will soon be knocking at the door.
Your role as a leader of people is critical in ensuring a better experience for your talented women so they are not left feeling frustrated, disappointed and looking for fulfilling work elsewhere.
The cost of replacing an employee is upwards of £30,000, and with more than 75 percent of new mothers leaving their employers after childbirth, your actions matter.
Here are nine ways you can ensure your returners have a great experience and you can keep hold of your valuable talent:
9 ways managers can ensure maternity leave doesn’t stall female career progression
1. Challenge your assumptions
It is easy to think that every new parent wants the same thing. However, people’s experiences differ. So instead of making sweeping assumptions, or applying broad brush strokes when answering ‘what do mothers in the workplace really want?’, it’s essential to treat them as individuals with their own needs, aspirations and ambitions.
Make time to get to know how they are experiencing leave, from their perspective, and ask them what they want.
2. View leave as a brief interlude and keep women ‘in the line’
A period of leave is a short space of time in a career that could span more than 40 years. To ensure women stay in progressive roles and move towards executive leadership, now is the time to get creative and enable flexibility to all employees.
3. Agree ways of communication during leave and keep an open dialogue
Maintaining connection and a sense of belonging by creating a maternity leave communications plan is a good idea. Before she departs ask her to clarify her preferred method of communication. How she is communicated with is a deeply personal choice, and getting it right before she leaves the office can make or break the experience she has as she plans her return.
4. Capture her goals and ambitions before her leave begins
Career progression conversations often get lost when there are changes to the leadership team. Unless documented in a consistent way, your returner may find she is coming back to work with a new boss who has no idea of the career goals she discussed with you over lunch 12 months ago. Make sure her ambitions are captured somewhere and shared with your successor.
5. Keep her informed of all developments, including promotion opportunities
Ensure you are consistently updating her on any opportunities for progression or promotion, so that she has the opportunity to apply. If successful, hold the position open for her return.
6. Be aware that this transition is personal
Every action you take at this complex time in her career can be heightened in importance – a meeting scheduled at the same time as nursery pick up, or a last minute change to the team away day dates can have a significant impact on the individual. Practice putting yourself in her shoes and displaying empathy as she finds her feet in working things out.
7. Allow her plans to grow, flex and evolve
The thinking and needs of your line report will evolve over time, so keep a regular open line of communication. Keep talking at regular touchpoints and allow plans to change, such as using a phased return to work or trial period for any changes so that you can test the waters and measure success.
8. View her leave through a leadership lens
A period of maternity leave is a time rich in personal and professional development. Neuroscientists explain how brain efficiency increases as a result of the changes motherhood provide a woman, grey matter decreases and white matter increases – boosting skills in empathy, problem solving and understanding the motives of others.
Ask your returner what skills she developed during leave, and how these now transfer back to her work. Celebrate her growth to help her build back confidence and leverage the refined skills she brings to the team.
9. Develop an output based culture
If there was ever a time to re-examine what it means to be productive, it’s in the aftermath of this global pandemic. Making work sustainable goes beyond adjusting productivity targets and setting realistic goals. It also involves changing perceptions about how work is done and when it gets done. Shift away from presenteeism as a marker of success, and develop an output based culture.
For more support with your returning employees back from parental leave consider implementing 1-1 and group coaching or training for your managers to ensure you are keeping hold of your competitive edge. Take a look at the workshops we offer for managers and employees alike.