We’re all in this together – supporting Mums return to work

By Julia Fiore

I’m willing to guess that most, if not all of us know of a friend, colleague or family member who has been lucky enough to bring a beautiful little human into this world.

Whilst riding the emotional rollercoaster of parenthood, and following the first few months of baby’s life, the caregiver is often required to make a tough decision – do I want to go back to work? Or perhaps more often, do I need to go back to work?

And if/when I do so, how on earth do I manage the juggle of parenthood with the pressure of returning to a workplace, having had time out of my career?

I’d hazard a guess that we are all aware of how emotional, complex and stressful the process for Mums to return to work can be.

Whilst I understand that parenting is very much a team game – we all know it takes a village – I’m writing from the point of view of a mother returning to work after time out for parental leave. What I’d really like to highlight is why, as business owners and managers, we have a responsibility to make the transition back into the workplace as supportive and comfortable as possible for any retuning parent.

As a HR professional, I have been party to, and advised on, a number of cases of women returning to work after parental leave. Often these cases involve the employee asking for a reduction in hours or days, or for some sort of transitional arrangement to help them settle back into a routine with their new parental responsibilities. There are many Managers out there who believe that those requests cannot be considered – that if a role has always been full time, that role cannot be done any other way. Most times, those Managers are wrong.


The Big Return

I know that my biggest fear in returning to work when my daughter was 1-year-old was that I would end up doing both things – parenthood and my job – poorly.

And I can tell you that no matter how much I gave in that role, whether it be time, blood, sweat and many, many tears – I couldn’t do that job the same way I had done it before.

Looking back at it now, I can tell you that I was doing it differently, but I was better. I was more organised, I was more committed because I wanted to show that I could do the job even with reduced capacity, I was more understanding of other people’s struggles and I knew that my job had renewed importance – I was supporting my family to live the life we wanted to live.

Women returning to the workforce are doing so out of a desire to support their family, and to do the very best for the business. Their requests to work flexibly or work reduced hours should not be viewed as a want to be difficult or self-centred, or as an indication of a reduced level of motivation or commitment – it should be seen as the opposite. If a person returning to work after an extended period of leave is looking for transitional arrangements or reduced hours, it is because they want to be able to do the best job they can with the energy and time that is now available to them.

As managers and business owners, we need to think differently about women returning to the workforce – yes; their priorities are different, and they have another person to support, but this can be their biggest driving force – their absolute motivation. Support them to return in an environment that is understanding, flexible and caring, and you will reap the rewards.


Thinking Differently

So I encourage you to think differently. The next time you have a role become available in your business, think differently about the status of the role – does the job need to be full time just because that’s the way it has always been done? What about job share opportunities or part time hours?

Think differently about working hours – does the work need to be done onsite? Or can you offer flexibility to work from home?

Think differently about office hours – does the work need to be done in office hours? Or can the work be completed on a laptop after hours? Offering any or all of these flexible options can open your company to a whole other world full of highly talented and capable applicants (many of whom you can find on SquarePeg now!).

Finding a solution that works both for the business and an employee seeking flexibility may not be easy, and you may need to spend time reviewing the arrangements to find the best fit, but it will offer you long term solutions, and more often than not, the commitment of a knowledgeable, organised, capable person who supports your business and knows the compromises you were willing to make to support them in their new role as parent.

As I mentioned earlier – it takes a village to raise a child – and that includes companies. I work for a manager and a business that understands I am both a Mum and an important part of the team, and I have never been more motivated or committed to a company and a role. I hope that as a society and as business owners and managers, we make these opportunities available more often and speak up about our ability to do so. It really is something to be proud of.

This blog first appeared on SquarePeg.

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