Markerstudy Group’s director of HR and talent development Tanya Gerrard-White offers her advice for mums returning to work after maternity leave and companies looking to improve how they support them.
As a company that’s listed in The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For, Markerstudy attracts a high calibre of employees and works hard to keep them. Tanya Gerrard-White, director of HR and talent development, shares her thoughts about how an employer can support women returning from maternity leave.
1) Employers should support women returning from maternity leave as much as possible
Having been out of the business for several months and perhaps a year or more, returning to work can be a daunting prospect. Companies must do as much as they can to make the process as easy as possible, allowing an employee enough time to resettle into their role and reconnect with their work and team. Failure to do so can result in feelings of alienation and make it hard for an employee to feel valued or motivated.
2) Flexibility is key
Having spent months taking care of someone else, many women see returning to work as something they are doing just for themselves. Working mums make excellent multi-taskers and are often highly productive and driven, having fewer hours in the working day to complete jobs; so if we can persuade them to return to insurance, so much the better. However, one size will not fit all. Some women may wish to return to their previous role, while others will want to change their hours or responsibilities – employers need to listen to individual needs and be as flexible as possible.
3) Inclusion is imperative
At Markerstudy we create pre-maternity communication plans to ensure women feel included throughout their entire pregnancy and maternity leave, including: celebrating their baby news group-wide; delivering the company magazine, Messenger, to their home while on maternity leave; regular keeping in touch (KIT) days, regular catch-ups and conversations with their manager; cards on their birthday; and celebrating milestones such as work anniversaries to show they are not forgotten.
Is there anything else an employer can do to help?
Expecting a baby can unleash a whirlwind of emotions and concerns, so employers that offer tailored health and safety advice for new and expectant mothers will be best placed to pre-empt any unease.
Great examples include workshops on work-life balance, flexible hours, training on updating technology skills, setting up a blog where returning parents can talk to each other and other support networks.
What can an employer do to ensure an employee settles into their old/new role?
It’s important that boundaries are set from both sides when an employee is returning to work in order to encourage an environment of respect, support and understanding. We operate one-to-ones where we can openly discuss how things are going and how the priorities of the individual might have shifted. We always try to be flexible where we can be but we are also clear about our expectations for the role.
What are the business benefits of KIT days?
KIT days are the best way to keep an employee up to speed with company changes so that their return to work is as smooth as possible. They also encourage a sense of unity within a team and help the manager asses the possible changes that they will need to accommodate.
What would your general advice be for someone returning from maternity leave?
If you’re returning to work don't ever be afraid to ask for help. Your manager is there to support you and it would be unrealistic for you to expect to pick up exactly where you left off. There will be a transition coming back into any role after a long time away so if you have any concerns, discuss them with your manager or another colleague who you feel that you can confide in.
What should an employee remember when they are on maternity leave?
It can be tempting to ‘go off the grid’ when you’re on maternity leave. However, I would recommend anyone in this position to be as communicative with their employer as possible. Try to arrange KIT days or send an email to arrange a visit to see your team and let them know how you’re doing. This will not only benefit you when you eventually return to work but also help maintain a bond with your colleagues while you’re away.
Do you feel all companies should review their maternity benefits?
Businesses can get an enormous return by offering attractive maternity terms to their workforce. It is prudent to encourage returning workers a fair and enhanced package as they are already experienced and have knowledge of the company, while a returning employee sends a positive message to other staff members that they can really build a long career through loyalty to the business.