Returning to work after maternity or adoption leave is often a stressful time for mums.
Many women are worried about leaving their child; they may be lacking in confidence or unsure of their legal rights. This means women need support at work, but employers often don't know what support to give, and don't understand how important it is for mums and for business.
As a mum of two and business owner, this is a really important issue for me. I've always wanted to help women in business – but since winning HSBC's Forward Ladies Business Woman of the Year last year, I've spoken to more women about their stories and found that lots of women had issues when returning to work after maternity leave. I wanted to find out more, so I teamed up with Jane Knight from Successful Mums – a leading training and career advice organisation for mums in London. Jane is an inspirational business woman, and since setting up Successful Mums in 2013, she's supported over 3,000 women with their journey back to work. Together, we decided to reach out to returning mums and find out what sort of support they received and the impact it had on their wellbeing and performance. A few weeks ago, we launched an online survey to gather as much information as possible. We had an amazing response and 856 mums took part.
After we collated the results, it was clear that there's a huge disparity in the type of support mums receive from their employer. 70% were offered part-time contracts, but only 54% were offered flexible hours and just 27% were offered gradual return to work. A huge 84% of returners said they needed additional training on new products or systems, but only 27% received any – meaning a massive 57% of returners were expected to adapt to changes in the workplace without having them explained. Only 16% of mums received any other form of training.
But it's not just the practical support that's lacking – only 14% of mums were offered a welcome back lunch or catch-up coffee, and only 32% of mums were introduced to new staff. Transitioning from being a full-time mum back into work life can be quite a culture shock, so these personal touches can make all the difference to a returner's experience.
A positive experience isn't just important for mums – it's important for business too. 55% of returners who didn't feel supported left their company – compared to just 10% of returners who felt very well supported. Mums who were not well supported were also twice as likely to leave within 3 months of returning – meaning employers could be faced with the cost of recruitment, disruption and productivity loss.
Even if mums stay in their role, inadequate support can have a negative effect on their performance and engagement. 73% of returners who were not well supported said their engagement dropped after going back to work, whereas a quarter of mums who were well supported said their engagement had actually increased. It's a similar story when we look at performance. 48% of women were not supported felt their performance was better before their leave.
This is clear evidence that supporting mums can actually make them better employees and save employers money.
Implementing an effective return-to-work programme for mums doesn't have to be difficult or expensive – it’s all about being open-minded, flexible and sensitive to the returners' needs. 61% of mums said part-time working, flexible hours and gradual return were the most effective support methods – but these only enable mums to return to work. It's the softer, personal touches that make returners feel comfortable, welcome and respected as employees. 60% of mums said taking the time to introduce them to new members of staff or arranging welcome-back drinks would have put them at ease and made them feel more valued.
All these small steps can have a huge impact for returners. Employers need to include practical and personal support in their programme to help mums feel happy at work and get better outcomes from their returning staff.