Maternity Leave

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Reintegrating Into The Workforce After Maternity Leave

Reintegrating a mother into the workplace after returning from maternity leave can be challenging, both for the woman and for her coworkers. Below is a list of seven tips and strategies by which this reintegration process can be eased. We have also provided a set of additional resources, including materials for further reading and instruction, as well as tools to better manage work reintegration for mothers.

1. Have a time-management plan in advance.

  • One frequent problem when working mothers return from maternity leave is "misaligned expectations on the part of both the employee and the employer" — and one way that this can manifest is with regard to expectations about work hours, how many hours should be spent onsite, etc.
  • Some companies have an automatic "ramp-up" program for mothers that features reduced work hours immediately upon return with a gradual build-up, but if not (and if the mother feels that this is necessary or would be beneficial), it is something that should be considered prior to her return.
  • Similarly, flexible hours or the option to perform telework (i.e., work from home) on some days could benefit both the mother and her colleagues by easing tensions and bolstering productivity.

2. Be Cognizant of Benevolence Bias.

  • One common bias that coworkers of mothers often exhibit when she is returning from maternity leave is 'benevolence bias,' which "occurs when our efforts to be kind result in us making decisions on other people’s behalf that take away their choices."
  • In the context of mothers, "many organizations assume [they] need fewer hours, fewer responsibilities or more time to adjust." While this may be the case for some mothers, it shouldn't simply be assumed.
  • The best way to defuse benevolence bias is simply through honest communication. The returning mother should make her capabilities and needs clear upon returning, and her coworkers should, rather than presume, ask her what she actually wants or needs, "without an implicit suggestion that we already know the answer."

3. An experienced mentor can be helpful.

  • Writing for Harvard Business Review, David Collings et al. recommended that HR leaders "set up mentoring programs for returning employees, where you match high performers who are more experienced caregivers with high performers who are new parents."
  • Consultant and career coach Mary Beth Farrante, writing for Forbes, made a similar suggestion: "create a support system" consisting of "women who have a shared experience" that can provide knowledge and encouragement.
  • "Informal buddy groups" can serve the same role. The important takeaway is that leveraging the experience of high-performing working mothers can be a valuable tool to gain insight, tips and tricks to navigate the reintegration of a mother returning from maternity leave.

4. Communicate early and often.

  • As mentioned above, communication is key. Others at the company should "create an open dialog with returning women" that ideally "should begin before maternity leave," but in any case, should begin as early as possible to manage expectations about workload, responsibilities, and general reintegration matters.
  • Lori Mihalich-Levin of Mindful Return suggests that mothers on maternity leave should "check in every month or so with [their] manager and team, to determine whether everyone is on the same page about [their] re-entry." This can also serve to "open the lines of communication for any adjustments that need to be made."
  • Similarly, a mother could schedule a casual meet-up such as a "lunch or coffee catch-up" with her team prior to returning to work to help reintegrate into company culture apart from work matters.

5. Don't be afraid to outsource tasks.

  • Dottie Leonardi of Drucker & Scacetti counsels women returning from maternity leave to not hesitate to outsource tasks, such as laundry, cleaning, or cooking, by hiring maid services or purchasing pre-cooked meals, and viewing these efforts as "an investment in [her] career, [her] children and [her] sanity." This can also help coworkers by increasing at-work productivity and reducing the amount of time that needs to be spent away from work or work-related tasks.
  • Similarly, before returning to work a mother should, as necessary, find not just one childcare solution, but "backup childcare" options, that can take the form of a list of family, friends, or others who may be able to watch her child at a moment's notice.

6. Prepare to start work as soon as returning.

  • Due to factors like the aforementioned benevolence bias or a simple lack of preparation, coworkers often do not prepare work for mothers to engage with immediately after returning, but "having no work is just as bad as having too much work. It really slows down the re-entry," can cut down on focus, and can make reintegration awkward and challenging.
  • At the same time, a full week of work right after maternity leave may be challenging, so scheduling the return for the middle or end of the week can be beneficial.

7. Take a course on the nuances of returning from maternity leave.

  • Courses and workshops are available on the subject of returning to work after maternity leave. For example, Mihalich-Levin, the lawyer who founded the resource Mindful Return, offers an e-course that breaks down the nuances of returning to work as a mother.
  • Her acclaimed course, which "is now being offered by a dozen employers, including her own law firm," leverages some of the valuable experience discussed above, as she is a working mother of two who has experienced the challenges of returning from maternity leave to a high-pressure workplace.

Additional resources

  • Mihalich-Levin has also written a book about her experiences and offers more practical advice for mothers returning to work, and the Mindful Return site as a whole has much more to offer in terms of information and resources for returning mothers and their coworkers.
  • Fast Company provides tips and anecdotes from over a dozen working mothers about returning from maternity leave.
  • Forbes provides tips for retaining and reintegrating women returning from maternity leave.
  • Quartz provides a list of tips and practical advice for the month leading up to a mother's return to work.
  • Parents offers a list of advice for mothers returning from maternity leave.
  • The Mayo Clinic offers a set of tips for returning to work after maternity leave.
  • The Ellie app is a tool for parents to connect with one another and offer advice and support that can be beneficial in the reintegration process.
  • Maybrooks is a career-related database for mothers.
  • Baby Tracker is an app that allows parents to track the health and activities of their newborns, which can give mothers some peace of mind and increased organization upon returning to work.

Your research team employed the following strategy:

To find information regarding the reintegration of someone returning from maternity leave to the workplace, we conducted an extensive search of relevant organizations, as well as media reports on the subject, particularly from business-oriented outlets such as Forbes. This search allowed us to compile the above list of tips and strategies. We also provided extraneous sources and tools in the 'Additional Resources' section.
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