Returning to work after maternity leave can create mixed emotions. We spoke to our founder Steph, and Janine Jacobs – founder of Happy HQ about how employers can do better to help those returning.  

Steph says, ‘It can be a really vulnerable time, returning from maternity leave. Most likely there have been some changes at your workplace since you left to have a baby – could be a new office, new manager, different team, sometimes your role has also changed significantly. There’s also the new logistics – whatever your childcare set up, you’re likely having to get another person ready as well as yourself before leaving the house (and that person isn’t always compliant!), worrying about whether they’ll be ok on top of feeling unsure if you can still do your job. And of course, wanting to appear confident and look like you absolutely can still do your job. Which you can, btw, and you’ll probably be more efficient than ever because there is no time for hanging about. But having a child is a major life change and your focus is on something – someone – entirely different for a while, as it needs to be and then suddenly you’re supposed to know how to do that and have a job?!

By the time I had my third, I knew that the return to work actually signified a positive change for me – it meant getting some of myself back, a new phase in our family, the beginning of our new ‘normal’. But I do remember feeling really anxious when I went back after my first baby, sitting on the train after the nursery drop off feeling really emotional and alone in those feelings. When I got in to work, the majority of my team were in another location and the boss at the time actually walked past me on the stairs. I felt pretty insignificant and I don’t think it takes a huge amount for companies to acknowledge the return of someone, rather than someone slipping back in almost like there’s some shame in having been on maternity leave. It could be an email out to the team to say when they’re back, a ‘return to work’ meeting with the team, a desk and computer with passwords ready so the access is smooth. We work with some companies at Don’t Buy Her Flowers that go a bit further – they hold events for maternity returners where they provide updates on the business and an opportunity to check in, and some give a little ‘welcome back’ gifts. They can be really simple touches – some tea and biscuits, a travel cup, a notebook – a little nod to the fact they might actually get to enjoy a hot cup of tea and help them in their prep for returning. We know from a survey we carried out this year that when it comes to workplace gifts, 69% of employees want to be recognised as an individual so marking these kinds of milestones with a relevant gift helps employers who care stand out’.

Janine Jacobs, co-founder of Happy HQ and People-First Culture Advocate has provided some top tips for business leaders and managers who have colleagues returning to work after maternity leave:  

  • Gradual Return-To-Work Plan: Transitioning back to work after parental leave can be a monumental task. We recommend implementing a phased (and thoughtful) return-to-work policy and plan to help ease new parents back into full work mode.
  • Embrace Flexibility: Life with a newborn is anything but predictable. Offering flexible schedules and remote work options gives parents the freedom to adjust to their new routines, responsibilities and sleep schedules! 
  • Create a Safe Space: Creating a comfortable, private space for new parents to pump, breastfeed or store breastmilk isn’t a luxury or perk; it’s about recognising and honouring the dual role many women play as professionals and mothers. 
  • People-First Culture: Encourage a people-first culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns without judgement. Open communication, active listening, and empathy will all help create the much-needed supportive work environment that new parents need. 
  • Prioritise Health and Well-being: Many new parents experience anxiety and depression, so access to resources and support, such as counselling services and wellness programmes as well as regular, and intentional, check-ins, will make it easier to cope. 

We’d love to hear what your experience has been like. Follow us on linkedin and send us your feedback.

Happy HQ

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