Becoming a parent is a magical and life-changing event, one full of excitement and hope for the future. It is a time of positive change, yet for any expectant working mother it can be a particularly anxious time, one that conjures up an array of feelings and anxieties around how they will successfully balance motherhood with a fulfilling career.
According to research, over one third (31%) of women stated that they found it “harder than expected” to return after an average of 10 months leave, with 37% feeling so unsupported that they considered handing their notice in. In fact, 17% of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to just 4% of men.
In light of these stark figures, it is clear that organisations need to make more effort to ensure women feel supported to enable them to seamlessly make the transition from work to motherhood and back again.
Forward thinking organisations recognise this need and have already implemented maternity and coaching programmes to not only help employees transition between their roles, but to ensure they retain their talents and support them to have successful and rewarding careers, whilst also helping to address any gender imbalances within their workforce.
However, it is not only expectant mothers that require support. Managers have a vital role to play in supporting women back into the workplace. This starts with understanding the changes women in particular experience, both physically and psychologically, in order to better support them empathically and sensitively, and to not disregard their talents, career aspirations and the positive contribution they make to the business.
To better understand why this is necessary, it is worth considering some of the most common challenges faced by expectant and new mothers before, during and after maternity leave as well as what managers and organisations can do support them throughout the process.
Common challenges faced
- Trepidation around announcing the news – depending on the organisation and manager, some employees may feel nervous about telling their employer of their pregnancy. Will they view it as fantastic news and an opportunity for others in the team to develop or as an inconvenience? Will they be treated as normal or feel marginalised – often unintentionally? Evidently, managers play a key role in how the period before an employee goes on maternity leave is received and handled.
- Fear over their career/role – many women experience fear and uncertainty over their future as a result of the impending change. This is something businesses need to quickly address by reassuring employees that they are pleased for them and while they will be missed, they are valued and an asset and that nothing changes with regards to their potential or the contribution they have to make to the business. Involve them in plans for covering their maternity leave – who will pick up on their work, what will the objectives be? For organisations looking to bring in external cover, involve them in the recruitment of their replacement and setting out objectives for that person.
- Visualising the future – it is important that the employee going on parental leave understands how things will change and are aware of how this may impact them personally and professionally. That way they can feel empowered and informed and look ahead to the future with the positive mindset that change can be a good thing.
- Staying connected with the business – depending on the period of maternity leave taken, things can change very quickly within the business so keeping up to date is important. Keeping in touch days are a brilliant way of keeping the employee updated on internal developments and can help to start to pave the way for their return to work, when they are ready.
- Achieving a balance between parenthood and work – parental leave can be all-consuming as new parents transition into their new role. For some, the thought of how they will juggle parenthood with a career can be overwhelming. This is a really critical point and is where having a structured support programme to successfully help new parents transition back to work can pay dividends. Empowering them to make decisions about their return; how they want it to work, what childcare options they will use and the option of flexible working, will help to set the foundations for success both at home and at work.
- Dealing with guilt – at INTOO we have spoken to many mothers who have recently returned to the workplace and one of the overwhelming feelings experienced is one of guilt at not being present for their children. Yet, very few feel they can openly talk about this. It is critical that managers understand this key issue and are coached to support new parents empathetically to further support their successful transition to the workplace. Career aspirations should be discussed on a regular basis as supporting new parents to have successful and fulfilling careers both short and long-term helps them to balance this very natural feeling.
- Experiencing burnout – burnout is another very real risk for new parents returning to the workplace as they try to juggle more elements – often on very little sleep! This is where supporting individuals to set clear boundaries between work and home life is vital, and the manager’s role is key in respecting and enabling this.
- Loss of confidence – this again is a very common concern for mothers returning to the workplace after an extended period of time as they worry about how the business has moved on and whether they still have the skills required. This is often completely misplaced, and it is up to managers and organisations to reassure employees that they are still a valuable asset to the business.
Given the numerous challenges faced by new parents, and in particular mothers, there is a strong case for organisations to implement a clear and effective strategy for helping structure a return to work which takes into consideration all the issues and is done so in a gentle and reassuring way. At INTOO we believe parental coaching at every stage is the answer.
So how can coaching help new parents to successfully transition back to the workplace?
Providing a structured coaching programme to expectant and new parents greatly improves the transition of individuals back into the business by providing a safe and non-judgemental environment to discuss concerns whilst preparing themselves before, during and after their time away from the workplace.
However, in order for this process to be effective, it must involve buy-in at all levels, particularly from line managers who play a critical role in supporting new parents as they make the transition back into their role. For this reason, they too would benefit from coaching to ensure they have the skills required to help these new parents settle back into their role.
What does support look like for the employee:
- Preparing them for the physical and physiological changes to expect
- Thinking about what they want their return to look like and what needs to happen to enable this
- How they will stay in touch with the business
- How becoming a parent may change them and their identity
- How to successfully re-engage with key stakeholders within the business
- Managing their return – from childcare options through to working patterns including flexible working
- Managing personal and professional boundaries and how to communicate these clearly
- Reviewing how the return has gone and making any necessary adjustments
- Realising professional potential – focusing on short, medium and long-term career aspirations
What does support look like for the manager:
- We would advocate coaching for managers for them to better understand how to effectively and empathetically support new parents back to the workplace.
Having children and a successful and fulfilling career do not need be mutually exclusive and establishing a structured framework for supporting new parents into the business has huge benefits for both the individual and the organisation.
For the individual, it allows them to feel supported and valued at a challenging and uncertain time by enabling them to strike a balance between their new role as a parent and the career they have been establishing over time.
For the organisation, it improves attraction and retention rates as you will be seen as an employer who invests in its staff and cares about its people and their futures. It will also help you to maximise the talent you have and benefit from a more diverse and committed team.
At a time when talent is in short supply and the spotlight continues to be shone on gender imbalance, it is something organisations not already offering it should seriously reconsider doing so.
At INTOO UK & Ireland our one-to-one maternity and parental coaching programmes are designed to help individuals navigate their career journeys as new parents by not only supporting the emotional, psychological and practical aspects of being a new parent, but helping them to address what this looks like within the context of their careers when they return to work. Click here to find out more.