Understanding the emotions of women going through maternity at work can help businesses offer the right kind of support and in turn, reap the rewards. Helen Letchfield, Co-Founder and Principal Facilitator of Parenting for Professionals, explains.
Whilst working with hundreds of women experiencing the period of maternity at work, Parenting for Professionals (PfP) continually sees the huge impact that supporting new parents at work can have on the return and retention rates of women. Only by fully understanding how women can feel during pregnancy and the early days of returning to work after maternity leave, can employers begin to offer the right kind of support necessary to help new parents gain a happy and productive work /family balance. So how does it really feel to experience pregnancy, going on maternity leave and then coming back up to a year later?
Although this period is often seen by some women as the ‘easiest’ part of the maternity cycle, (returning to work being the hardest), this is very much dependent on each individuals’ pregnancy. Firstly, there are the physical demands of pregnancy to contend with at work, many women face continuous nausea and fatigue, especially in the early days. What often goes unrecognised and therefore unsupported, however, is the emotional transition that most women go through when pregnant at work.
Whilst some women struggle with the change in attention, others find that it can deepen relationships through sharing another life experience with others in the workplace, where previously there was no common ground. Fundamentally, women are coping with a huge identity change at work, and this can affect confidence levels. Where you have spent years being rewarded for your professional status, coping with people treating you differently (even if it is positively) can be yet another change to deal with. The main concern encountered in PfP’s workshops at this stage, however, is leaving behind the years of work, expertise, relationships and professional credibility many women have worked so hard to build up. Yes, there is huge excitement about starting a new life and role as a mother. But what about the things they are leaving behind? Will they get their handover completed on time before leaving, and more importantly, who is taking over their role and how effective will they be? Will the business want her back after being away for so long?
Digesting all of the above factors is indeed the first step to being able to support pregnancy because understanding and appreciating the amount of change experienced is paramount. Managers in particular need to understand and be able to follow the company maternity policy, to ensure rights such as Health & Safety Assessments are carried out appropriately. Being able to portray the attitude of ‘we are here to support you’ will make individuals feel reassured and safe during a time of uncertainty. Clearly, the vast majority of time and focus during at least the first half of maternity leave is not going to be on work – and so it shouldn’t be! But for many women, thoughts of work don’t just disappear, especially if you have agreed to keep in contact with colleagues.
Many women report feeling ‘forgotten about’ during maternity leave, and it’s easy to see why when we are all so busy and managers have so many changing priorities to deal with. PfP has encountered situations when women on maternity leave literally have been forgotten about, which can have critical consequences, particularly if the business is going through a restructure or a period of change which will affect the role of the individual on maternity leave. The best thing employers can do at this stage is agree on a keeping in touch plan before the individual goes on maternity leave. This is considered ‘best’ because it’s a personal agreement, quick and easy to implement, and helps to boost the relationship between the manager and the employee. Both parties will then be clear and happy about making and initiating contact. The absolute essential period for additional coaching support, whether internal or external, is during the latter part of maternity leave, when individuals will be making plans to return (or not). Companies who devote time and attention to helping individuals make the right return to work decision for their family and for their circumstances will reap rewards in the longer term. If a company is considering maternity coaching on a limited budget, this would be the most valuable point to implement it. During a maternity coaching workshop, delegates are encouraged to voice their concerns about returning, work them through, and consider all aspects of how their return to work decision will affect their family life.
Created on: 25-Jul-12 13:50
By: Liggy Webb