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Maternity Return Research

We ran a survey to learn how organisations can best support people during maternity leave, and their return to professional life.  We sought to identify the core issues that hinder a positive mindset and return experience.  We help organisations support their returners (of any kind) with executive coaching programs and we run workshops for HR professionals and line managers.  The survey ran for 12 months, it captured data from 1754 returners between August 2018 and August 2019.  If you would like a copy of the results or more details of our workshops and coaching programs, please email lisa@carvercoaching.co.uk

Top Tips for Employers who are Managing Maternity

We’ve extracted and distilled some top tips for organisations:

1.  The fanfare that you make when your pregnant employee leaves to have their baby (card, balloon, meal, whatever gesture small or large), should be equal in the effort and fanfare put in place to welcome them back.


2.  Communication whilst away from the office is key, on changes, major events, promotions, new role openings, business gains and losses. Employees should be allowed to opt in or out of this communication at any stage. Ideally without having to check through all of their work emails.  They are on leave, It’s not about them re-engaging, it’s about keeping them up to date. 


3. One person (team member or line manager) should be allocated to represent the returner whilst they are away. To ensure that (for example) they don’t automatically get given the rubbish seat when you move office and that they aren’t the ones instantly blamed for things going wrong whilst they are no there to fight for themselves.


4.  Whilst they are away continue to invite them to work events, training, xmas parties etc with no pressure to attend either way.

5. When they return to work they should be given a re-introduction document. Maybe this could be read and digested at home on a KIT day before they arrive in the office. It’s about helping them to return knowledgeable and confident.  Content might include;

  • New faces

  • Changes in processes

  • New office layout

  • Current goals of the business

6. When they arrive back at work they should be offered a mentor or buddy. Ideally someone more senior who is also balancing family life with their professional pressures, and has themselves returned to work after maternity leave.

7. On return, the line manager should take time to clearly outline the strategy of the team plus realistic goal and expectation setting with the returner (whilst showing understanding for all the change they are currently managing).


8. If your organisation is big enough then consider creating a parents network. Maybe have a social once a year in addition to a shared intranet space for them to connect.


9. Coaching can provide emotional and practical support for the returner. Use an internal or executive coach, it will increase the chances of retaining your returner by 15%. (EY survey)


10. Offer re-training on the systems or any element of their jobs if needed.


11. Be aware.  The school system does not support working parents. There are 14 weeks of holidays a year plus inset days and often 1/2 days at the end of each term. In addition to this there are curriculum meetings and a number of other events that the school merrily run mid morning or afternoon.  How can your business support the returner to be there for the crucial times? 

12. Be aware. Childcare is expensive and strict. If you are more than 15 mins late to pick up your child most nursery’s apply a £25 charge and may report you to social services. The returner can’t be late picking up. They can however work after bedtime if needed. Unscheduled overtime in the office is an impossibility, but most can contribute from home after hours.


13. One-to-one’s during the initial return period (3-6 months), should be offered fairly frequently.


14. Be human. You are human and you employ humans. Don’t be scared to show empathy, understanding and that you actually care.


15. Typically, on a crucial day for the business, all levels of childcare provisions and contingency planning will fail, it’s sod’s law. The returner will likely already be carrying guilt, blame and shame. On returning to work after maternity leave, discuss with your returner what their childcare provisions are. What if the child is ill? Will they share unexpected childcare duties with their partner? What other support do they have in place? Friends, grandparents, nanny’s, au pairs, neighbours.  A coach can help the returner to work through some ‘what if..’ scenarios. 


16. The day-to-day line manager has the biggest influence on how it feels to work within the company and is crucial to the returners experience and success. It’s imperative for the line manager to be supported and educated in how to ‘manage maternity’. Contact us for details of our line managers workshop here.


17. Do you have working parent role models in your organisation? The more senior the better. Ensure there are some people showing others that it’s possible to have a career and be parent. These people also need to be open about their tricky days and ‘the juggle’, they must be realistic. These people make ideal mentors/buddies for your returners too.


18. Showing the returner trust and loyalty will breed trust and loyalty in return. They will be the ones who will work until midnight for you on 'crunch' day.

19. The returner leaves the business for maternity leave feeling valued and that they’ll be missed. Any hint that ‘you’ve moved on’ or that they are not so important can trigger a crisis in confidence which can stay with them for life.


20. Parenthood does not make your returner less capable, dedicated, skilled, clever or valuable.  In fact they are likely to return better at time management, organisation skills, networking, resilience (bounce back ability), and managing their personal well-being. If someone takes a year away from the business on maternity leave, then it is acceptable to expect that their career is stalled by a year.   In the same way that if someone took time off to travel for a year, their career will go on hold for that time.  Once they return their career should continue as before, with equal treatment and opportunities in the workplace.  Beware of your own and the returners unconscious bias.


Top Tips for Returning Parents

1. Ideally, before you go on maternity leave capture your career highlights. Literally write down your greatest achievements from your career (projects, promotions, events, achievements etc), pick at least 4, note your key skills, abilities, positive aspects, positive feedback you’ve had etc. What does this say about you? what qualities did you need to make these things happen? Write this all down. Before you walk back into the office on your return to work. Read this document.

2. Ideally, before you go on maternity leave, update your CV. The purpose of this is to capture high lights from the above tip and also to remind you, you are not trapped. You have a market value. Look at what you have achieved so far.


3. Take time out to career plan.  Look towards the future and consider, if you had no barriers: Where do you want to be in the future? Do you need anything else to get you there? What are you lacking? How can you fill the gap?  Come up with as many options as you can. Make an action plan, working backwards from the desired outcome.


4. Research by Harvey Coleman (ex IBM) identified the factors that get people promoted or recognised in the workplace: 60% Exposure 30% Image 10% How good a job you do. With this in mind, if possible, don’t hide behind a bushel. Make sure people know and hear about you, even when you are on maternity leave. Keep in contact with the office, write an article for an industry journal, go to the Christmas party, invite work colleagues over for a BBQ. Whatever action feels comfortable, don’t let them forget you.


5. Ask five people that know you well for personal feedback. This is a valuable confidence building exercise. Make sure you send it to people whose opinion you trust and respect. Here are the questions: What one word or phrase describes me best? What do you think is my greatest achievement? What do you value most about me? What one thing could I change for my own benefit? What do you believe to be my greatest strength?


6. Write a one page summary of your life as you’d like it to be known by your grandchildren. What is your life’s purpose?  What are you working towards?  What is unique about you?  What positive words can you find to describe yourself?


7. Identify what makes you strong physically and mentally. For example, sleep, exercise, good food, seeing friends once a week, talking to family regularly, practising yoga, whatever it is, it’ll be personal to you. As much as possible, you need to carve out time to put these elements into your life, this will increase your resilience in the face of any adversity. A happy strong parent, makes happy strong children and a driven, engaged and successful professional. Everything is a phase. It will pass. Enjoy the good and look after yourself through the bad.


8. Write your own personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Google this if you need an example.


9. Childcare. If you can, identify and recruit multiple layers. What happens if your child is mildly ill and nursery won’t take them, on a crucial day for the business? Grandparents, neighbours, friends, nannies, au-pairs, relatives. Fellow parents might act as a back up for you on their non-working days, maybe you can do the same for them. If it’s ever possible for you to help out a fellow parent then do, ‘favours in the bank’ are always handy to have.


10. Visualise your ideal first day back in the office. What could go wrong? How can you prepare for this or mitigate the chances of this happening? What will you wear? Get your perfect outfit ready. Who will you take lunch with? Can you prepare for this? Email your old colleague now so that they know you want lunch with them on day one. Plan and make it happen.


11. That crucial day at work, when the client is in, or it’s deadline day etc, that crucial day is when things at home are likely to go wrong. How can you prepare for this?


12. No one is perfect, we’ve all made mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up, it won’t change anything, just damage the future you. Be kind to yourself. You are very likely amazing. Bringing a child into this world is physical and mentally hard work. If possible, reward yourself in whatever way you can before you go back to work and regularly when you are back on the treadmill.


13. It gets easier. You will look back and know this to be true. Ask some people with older children who have done the juggle with work in the early years. You are not alone. You will have some mutual ground. Connect. Support. Reassure.


14. Ask for and accept help. Form a community of parents. Neighbours, NCT, playgroups, where ever you can recruit them from. Together you can help each other.


15. You can have a career and be a great parent. However, it’s not possible to have it all. It’s physically impossible to be there for all of your child’s milestones and events whilst also having a high flying career and be 100% present at work plus, maintaining the perfect body, staying in contact and seeing all of your friends and family regularly, eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise, keeping on top of fashion, being the perfect spouse etc. There simply are not enough hours in the day. You can only do your best and make the best decisions you can in the moment you are in. You are spinning plates. You can drop a plate if you wish, give it just a little spin or come back to it later. Take it one day at a time. Prioritise.


16. Congratulations, as a parent, coming out of maternity leave it’s likely you are now better at time management, organisation skills, networking, resilience (bounce back ability), and managing personal well-being.


17. Be as honest as you can with your partner (if you have one). Your inherent expectations of each other are based on the role models of parents you have witnessed in your past. However, society has progressed a lot in the last 40 years. What do you expect of each other? What are your weekly roles? For example, who is cleaning the bathroom, dropping off the children? Are they fulfilling your expectations? Do things feel fair? Talk things over, get clear.


18. When life gets busy, make life as easy and simply as possible. Stick on labels, ready cook meals, and get ahead when you can. Make the packed lunch and put clothes out the day before. Book the party, holiday clubs, santa tickets, etc.


19. Sleep is everything. You can’t buy it. However, it can be accessed for free. Nothing supports your mental and physical health like it. Do whatever it takes to get it established as a regularly occurring event.


20. Returners support infrastructure. Your work place may well have provisions in place to support you.KIT days, Buddy/mentor systems, parental leave, phased return, executive coaching, workshops. Ask them what support they have for maternity leave and returners. Also, doctors, paediatricians and health visitors are there to support you and your child.



Return to Work Model

This model comprehensively outlines the barriers (psychological and physical) experienced by returners.  As we fully digest and dissect the data from our research we hope to design more models which can be used by HR professionals, line managers and executive coaches.  For more details please email directly, lisa@carvercoaching.co.uk

Return to Work Model Carver Coaching

Note: This model is the intellectual property of Carver Coaching. It is unlawful to use or reproduce this model in any form without the written consent of Carver Coaching.

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