No need to side-line new mothers

It is unsurprising that 6 out of 10 mothers say their careers were “derailed” after becoming pregnant.

The truth is that a long break from a career job does have an impact on both employer and employee.

The employer has to cover the vacancy created. Figures from the CIPD put the cost of recruiting to cover a vacancy at around £6,000 and Oxford Economics puts the cost as higher, around £30,000. How far these figures reflect the cost of recruiting someone to cover a maternity leave may be a matter of debate but unquestionably there is a substantial cost to the employer.

There will also be an impact on the employee. The work environment moves on inexorably. Technology is the obvious example. For example, within a year Smartphones became integrated into businesses, with consequent changes in work patterns. Teams change, reporting relationships change, market strategies change, regulations change and the economy changes often within a year, sometimes radically. Time away from work can leave an individual out of touch quite quickly.

This is not discrimination but hard reality.

It is also reality that for mothers their child is their first priority; few employers would contest that – most employers have families of their own.

Ten tips for employers

There is no benefit to the employer, as the linked article implies, in side-lining a key employee. Here are a few tips:

  1. Welcome the pregnancy! It is tough for you as an employer but it is also an opportunity. Business is about challenge and coping with maternity leave will strengthen the business.
  2. Pregnant employees do not just “leave” with a month’s notice, as uncommitted colleagues might. You won’t get 9 months notice but you will get a few. It provides time to prepare, so prepare!
  3. Prior to her starting leave, set up parallel working with the maternity cover employee or with her colleagues. There is a cost to this, but compared to the time otherwise needed to get up to speed (the Oxford study about suggested 28 weeks!) it will be small. Parallel working will maintain the interest and motivation of the pregnant woman. There will also be benefits of having “two heads” working on the job.
  4. During the leave, keep in touch with the employee, with her permission. That means keeping her informed, not asking her to do work. She may feel side-lined if you don’t. This particularly applies in the latter part of her leave so she can return to the job without having any surprises.
  5. Use the keep-in-touch days (KITs). There are ten at present. You don’t need to pay the employee for those days and they are entirely optional on both your part and hers. But committed employees will use those if circumstances permit – and committed employers will probably pay them.
  6. KITs can be used for training or for work – but agree how they will be used before the employee comes in.
  7. Shared parental leave (due in October 2014) may provide more opportunities.
  8. Provide a refreshment induction. Care is needed here. The employee has the right to return to her original job (if it still exists) so suggesting that she needs induction training could compromise that position. On the other hand just to drop her into the position from day one as if nothing has changed is going to make her feel side-lined. Induction should include re-introduction to the team, briefing or training on new technology, briefing on what else may have changed. The need for this will be reduced if the keep in touch days have been used.
  9. Recognise the confidence issue. Any employee who has been away form work for months is likely to be nervous. Demands they have not met for some time may feel daunting at first. So let them find their feet; don’t throw them back in at the deep end or expect to hit the deck running.
  10. Be prepared for uncertain attendance for some time to come. This will vary with each employee, their commitment and their circumstances, but it is to be expected and should be planned for.

For some years, the number of women who are millionaires in Britain has been growing faster than the number of men. Stereotyped attitudes watch out.

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