Supporting managers to manage maternity and paternity

One of the hardest things about my role as an L&D Business Partner was trying to persuade the right managers to attend the right courses.  Sourcing the right facilitator, tailoring the training programme for the audience, marketing and evaluating the programme – all pretty easy in comparison to the mammoth task of ensuring the managers signed up and then actually attended.  Even then, I generally found that the managers who really needed the development had a habit of cancelling at the last minute.

Not much has changed some 10 years later.  Working alongside L&D and HR teams, aiming to ‘entice’ managers to attend workshops on Managing Maternity & Paternity, also hasn’t been an easy task.  The promise of a free sandwich during the 2-hour lunch workshop, or a productive 20-minute online module can certainly help pique interest levels.

In a 2015 survey by PfP Coaching, post-course evaluation of a Managing Maternity workshop identified that the attendees self-rated their knowledge level before the workshop at 61%, rising to 91% just 2 hours later.  So once you have the managers in the room, it proves there is a real need for this development!

There have also been huge societal shifts in the last few years, which need to ring the alarm bells for any HR or L&D Professional – it is vital that managers are taught how to manage their employees through the change of becoming a parent at work.  Here’s why:

  1. Lord Davies’ recommendations to FTSE 100 companies to strive for 25% female representation on boards by 2015, further reinforces that we need to do more to strengthen the female talent pipeline to enable progression to more senior roles.  We now know that we lose female talent when they become parents; predominantly because they are not supported or developed; or feel ‘written off’ by managers
  2. The role of the father has changed.  Fathers are now expecting to have more workplace flexibility so they can spend more time with their families.  The introduction of Shared Parental Leave enables this to happen.  More than ever before, we have come to recognise how important the role of the father is to the happiness and development of his children
  3. The CIPD conference this month reminded us that the UK Workforce is set to see a 65% growth in learning at work through coaching by line managers and peers.  Restraints on budgets and time mean that learning has to be just-in-time and available in a format that managers can digest quickly and practically.  When someone announces their pregnancy to a manager who has never managed maternity before, that manager needs knowledge and a clear understanding of what should be done, and how it should be handled

Still not persuaded?  Here are the 6 main reasons why it’s crucial that managers learn how to manage maternity and paternity:

  1. There is a legal, reputational and cost risk to your business if maternity isn’t managed appropriately.  The risk of miscommunication runs high during the period of maternity and return – it’s a massive period of change for the employee, the team and the manager.  In 2013, the government announced a £1 million programme to assess the extent of pregnancy discrimination, stating that over nine thousand pregnancy discrimination claims have been brought against UK employers since 2007.’ 
  2. It’s a wider issue than just managing maternity and paternity.  With last year’s change in legislation that now enables anyone (not just parents or carers) to apply for flexible working, managers will soon find that they are facing more requests for flexible working.  Do your managers know how to handle a request for flexible working?  Are they able to manage a more remote team?  In addition, with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in April this year, it’s possible that requests for extended leave will begin to come in not just from new mothers, but new fathers too.  Are your managers ready to cope with these changes?
  3. Poor management can have an effect on a team member’s health and wellbeing.  A National Childbirth Trust (NCT) survey of over 1500 working mums reported that ‘33% of respondents reported concern about the attitude of their boss as being one of the main worries about returning to work.’  Most returners worry about the support they will or won’t get from their managers, especially on return.  Most working parents struggle with stress and managing their work/life balance.
  4. The way maternity leave is handled affects your whole team.  In a 2012 study, it was found that ‘maternity leave does not only affect the mother but has a wider impact on the work colleagues and the company or organisation where she works.’ Consider that many team members observe how a maternity returner is treated, to determine whether they themselves would consider staying in this company when having their family. 
  5. Managers have that golden opportunity to be able to retain women in the business and to strengthen the female talent pipeline.  In 2013, law firm Slater Gordon carried out a survey of 2000 respondents, which identified that half of women returners were overlooked for promotion, and that more than one third had responsibility taken away.  Consider the wasted productivity and talent! 
  6. Not all managers are naturally skilled in finer communication skills and knowledge of the maternity/paternity/flexible working processes.  How to listen and communicate empathetically are skills which need to be taught, and reinforced with clear guidelines and advice from HR.

Helen Letchfield is the Co-Founder of, supporting organisations to develop and retain their parents.

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