How employers can go beyond maternity leave for working mums

shared parental leave, mum, dad, family

Returning to work after having a child can bring about a range of emotions for working mums; the sense of excitement of coming back to a job they have been away from for 9+ months, but also the associated stresses of combining work life and new responsibilities of childcare.

While employers and HR professionals have a responsibility to ensure a new mum’s return to work is as seamless as possible, companies that have procedures in place to allow parents to have some control over their working hours as their children get older will create happier staff, higher levels of retention and a more productive workforce.

Here, Cathryn Sims, Group Head of HR at UK credit check specialist Creditsafe looks at some of the strategies companies can utilise to maximise the employee experience for working mums.

With costs of living seemingly increasing all the time and a rising incidence of couples with children that both work full time, the challenges associated with childcare for new parents are only going to rise and companies need to recognise this. And, while life as a working parent can be fulfilling, it’s not always easy to juggle all of the responsibilities that are thrown at you.

It’s no secret that some businesses have become accustomed to the benefits of flexible working practices, and in some respects, are often an expected caveat for all prospective candidates when applying for certain roles. However, there are other ways that companies can accommodate working parents and provide an environment for them to flourish and develop their skills to be the best member of staff they can be, and this doesn’t have to be physical changes such as providing a crèche or free childcare to staff.

Shape a supportive company culture

The first thing to remember is that while policy changes that support working parents are a great thing, it’s important that business leaders and managers embody that culture to ensure staff feel valued. If a parent has to leave early to attend parent’s evening or a doctor’s appointment for their child, they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about this. This is something we feel quite strongly about here at Creditsafe, we are all human and we recognise that we will all, at some point, require flexibility to ensure that we can balance our life outside of the workplace with our responsibilities in work. We know that this is something our employees value and for us it increases not only employee engagement and loyalty but ultimately, performance.

Make sure communication is open and frank about flexible working practices for parents and reduce the likelihood of people interpreting it as “special treatment”.

Recognise the pressures for working parents

For colleagues, it’s important to be wary of the wider life pressures that being a parent comes with. If a member of staff mentions they have been up all night with a crying baby, make sure you recognise this – potentially offer some additional support if it seems like they need it or, if possible, the option to make up the hours at another time. It’s all about creating a culture that is empathetic – you don’t always know what a parent has had to deal with outside of the office.

It doesn’t stop after the first few months

Businesses need to remember that for parents, the challenges of childcare don’t stop after the first few months and if anything they could become greater as children get older and the responsibilities of school runs and other commitments begin to clash with the standard 9-5 working day. Providing the flexibility to work remotely when practical and at a time that suits them needs to be a privilege that isn’t just reserved for the first few weeks after they return from maternity leave.

Putting this into practice

For example, Emma one of our IT engineers, combines her work at Creditsafe while caring for her five children; an 11 year old son and two sets of twins under the age of two and a half.

After starting out in the company’s sales department, support and training opportunities in the business lead to her moving into an IT engineering role and she puts her development down to the flexible HR procedures in place.

“I’m currently back at work two days a week and planning to come back full time in September. I get asked all the time how I manage but with my support network at home and the fantastic support and flexibility I don’t find it too difficult. It’s really about productivity and the trust we are given to manage our workloads,” said Emma.

The impact on bottom line

Going beyond a company’s responsibility to create a positive working environment for its staff, the commercial benefits of caring for your parental workforce are not hard to miss.

When Google increased its paid maternity leave for workers for example, they found that the employee retention rates improved by 50 per cent; significantly reducing the costs incurred through recruitment and new staff training.

Allowing flexibility and support is vital in order to retain valued employees, with advances in technology and also management and HR practices, businesses no longer have an excuse not to be flexible with their workers; meaning new parents can continue to develop their careers once they return to the fold.

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