It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week(May 3-9) and this particular campaign is dedicated to talking about mental illness during and after pregnancy.
To mark this focus on maternal mental health, we were keen to explore how employers can support people returning to work.
The notion of making the return to work after maternity leave can be both stressful and daunting for a new mother. Employers should be aware of the indicators which point to poor mental wellbeing and be equipped to offer a smooth transition back into the workplace.
This is particularly important at a time when new parents have experienced a pregnancy or adoption and their subsequent maternity leave throughout a pandemic, meaning that employers should be even more sensitive to the added stress and worries around safety that this may have caused.
Taking steps to alleviate any concerns can mean the difference between retaining a dedicated employee or losing them because the demands of juggling their career and added family duties means that they fail to strike a sustainable work-life balance.
The return to work process should be well planned out and agreed by both the employer and new parent.
Here are our tips around what a successful transition back to work for a new parent should involve.
Offer the opportunity for training and development
Returning employees should be offered training or the chance to upskill in order to catch up with any industry or professional developments which they may have missed during their absence.
This could take the form of a keeping in touch day, where employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity leave. These days are optional and both the employee and employer need to agree to them taking place.
This training could also take place during the more permanent return to work process at the end of maternity leave. Areas to cover might include updates to technical equipment or software, personnel developments and industry changes which impact the business.
Managers should be trained in how best to support employees who are returning from maternity leave, recognising the symptoms of stress and introducing frameworks to support them.
Allow employees to communicate freely
Employers should keep the lines of communication open both during maternity leave and afterwards to avoid people feeling isolated and unsupported.
They can take steps to ensure that employees are included in more informal office communications, for example on WhatsApp or via Zoom, so that they are still privy to the social aspects of the business and feel part of the overall culture.
Regular check-ins, news and updates help returning employees to feel like valued team members, safe in the knowledge that they are aware of any major company developments which may occur in their absence. This can also help to ease people in on that challenging first day back, which employers should be particularly sensitive to as it may be the first time they have been separated from their child.
Above all, employers should take cues from the employee in question as to how much information they wish to receive and whether they are comfortable with catching up on an informal basis during their maternity leave.
Encourage flexible working
A lot of returning employees will inevitably want to alter their previous working pattern to balance their childcare responsibilities and career. This is increasingly the case following the onset of Covid-19 as remote working has become more mainstream and accepted.
Bearing this in mind, employers should reasonably process such requests in accordance with statutory flexible working procedures. There are eight main reasons why a request can be rejected, including “inability to reorganise work among existing staff” and “detrimental impact on performance”.
Employers should tread carefully here, because the rejection of a flexible working request may form the basis of a discrimination claim if it is turned down as a “matter of course” for fear of precedent setting or without sound rationale as to why it cannot be accommodated.
Employers should always agree to compromise, where possible, and recognise the sensitivities that may come with rejecting the request and the potential effect it may have on the overarching working relationship.
Ultimately, providing a considered return-to-work process, open communication lines and an adaptable working situation will boost any new parent’s confidence in their post-maternity leave journey, as well as improving their overall impression of the business and helping to foster a long, happy working relationship.
If you would like to speak about your returning to work options in more detail, please contact the MERJE team: firstname.lastname@example.org