Your Employee’s Maternity Leave is Over. Now What?
Most employees who return to work after maternity leave face a difficult adjustment period. After recuperating from giving birth or a long adoption process, sleepless nights and diaper changes, a new addition to the family brings much joy, but also hard work. Then, it’s time for mom to go back to the office. The stress of transitioning back into a 9-5 routine can take its toll on mom’s health, as well as her job performance. Organizational leaders who help employees ease back into their jobs after leave are more likely to inspire productivity and better work-life fit. It also sets a good example from the top-down that your organization is supportive of parents, which helps define an organization’s status as an employer of choice.
The best part is that helping employees through this transition period is (relatively) easy. There are no laws to change or rules that need to be broken – just managers extending flexibility and understanding to a mom that is returning to work can go a long way. TIME touched on this topic last week in an article titled Study: Why Maternity Leave Is Important. The researchers pointed out that for new moms, a smooth transition back to work is the key to better long-term maternal health, mental health and healthier children.
What helps make back-to-work transitions easier? One thing the maternity study authors suggest is time. More specifically, having enough time to go from being pregnant or adopting a baby, to returning to work. How much time is enough? It depends. If you consider that the U.S. has one of the least generous maternity leave policies in the world, that’s a good indicator that American employees could use more. Here’s a list of countries and their maternity benefits, which is interesting to look at for comparison. Other ways managers can help their employees ease back into work include telecommuting, temporary part-time schedules and Fridays off. What will be most successful however, is what works best for the individual employee, depending on their work and personal preferences, while also taking into consideration the needs of management and co-workers.
What’s the upside for organizations that offer an extended maternity leave and/or a slow transition back to work? Healthier and more productive employees. Moms who have more time before returning to work benefit and by extension, so do organizations. Having additional time off before returning to work helps support breastfeeding, which benefits a mom’s health, baby’s health and saves organizations money because breastfeeding moms take fewer sick days. Another recent study supports that the longer maternity leave mothers take, the more likely they are to breastfeed, and for a greater period of time. Even if you cannot extend an employee’s maternity leave, there are plenty of ways to help them transition slowly back into work, such as telecommuting.
Employees, especially parents or parents-to-be value organizational benefits such as maternity leave and flexible work arrangements. In fact, there was a recent discussion on The Juggle about negotiating maternity leave benefits for a future pregnancy as part of accepting a new job. Unpaid maternity leave affects employees and their families, and that new mom is coming back to work with added financial stress on her shoulders. The “cushion” of a flexible or telecommuting schedule could help those employees financially by saving money on new clothes, transportation, food and the stress of adjusting to a new childcare provider arrangement.
Employees who plan to take maternity leave should work out a return to work plan before going out on leave. Although it is not possible to anticipate everything in advance of a baby’s arrival, arranging a plan that works for both the employee and manager will benefit the employee and organization. Managers should check with HR to see what options exist, and also to ensure that proper procedures such as accommodations for breastfeeding mothers are followed. See 8 Tips for a Smooth Parental Leave for ways to get started.
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