Supporting Maternity Returners

We explore why emotional back-to-work support is equally important as getting the logistics right and why Supporting Maternity Returners is so important.

Supporting Maternity Returners – Assessing the Situation

Let’s start by stepping into a maternity returners shoes:

You’ve been away from your job for a year. You’ve used all your Keeping in Touch days, so know who you will be working with and what you will be doing. So from a logistical point of view, things have been taken care of.  However, although excited about going back to work you become anxious and confidence levels drop.  Negative thoughts can creep in: “Am I going to be as good as before?  How am I going to do my job in just 3 days?  Will people see me as credible, able to fulfil my role?  Will I be taken seriously?”

It is likely that many maternity returners put on their ‘business image’ when returning to work as they don’t want to show how they are really feeling. Because of this, any emotional support maternity returners can be given over the first few weeks is really important. Thinking about first impressions, maternity returners are likely to make their decision on whether returning to work was a good idea very quickly.  The aim is that they go home saying “I really enjoyed it, I’m glad I’ve gone back.”

Spending time with the maternity returner, asking how she is feeling, whether she has any concerns, what she wants to get out of her role now can make a huge difference to her. It demonstrates that she works for people and a company that care.  However, when there are confidence issues, we can’t unfortunately wave a magic wand and make them disappear.  Time needs to be allowed for emotional change.

Let’s go back to the maternity returner:

A word that can easily summarise your day is PRESSURE.  This starts from dropping off your child/ren through to being expected to carry out your role as if you hadn’t been away.  You may feel embarrassed that you’ve forgotten how to do something so may be thinking “I can’t ask that, I don’t want to look stupid, I don’t want them to think I’m not competent!”  Because of living a different life over the last year, you may have lost some confidence around managing people/having challenging conversations/negotiating etc.  Anxiety can creep in and act as more of a hindrance to you.  The ‘What if’ appears. You need help but don’t want to ask.  Emotions are high and it’s going to take a while to settle down.

These thoughts may only be common amongst some of your returners and a lot of it is personal pressure.  However, by engaging with your maternity returners early and ensuring they are supported especially over the first three months of returning, you are more likely to retain your employee and get the best from her.

Here’s some practical help you can give when supporting maternity returners: 

  1. Encourage your maternity returner to reflect on how things were before they went on maternity leave.  What did they do well, what’s been successful in their career?  Be creative and bring out the maternity returners successes, help them to feel positive and strong.
  2. Ensure their line manager can support their maternity returner and that it is realistic for her role to be carried out in the hours she has signed up to do.  I had someone recently say to me “a part-time job is just 5 days squashed into 3 days”.  In addition, make sure the manager supports their maternity returner by checking that she can competently carry out all tasks and use all systems required.  Especially with technical systems it may take a little time to get back up to speed, maybe there is a refresher course she could go on?  The maternity returner will be under a lot of pressure to give her all to her job and also leave on time for childcare pick-up.
  3. Have frequent check-ins with the maternity returner for at least 3 months to check her emotional state.  How is she coping with home and work, is there any more support she needs from you etc.
  4. Building confidence comes from achieving increasingly stretching goals.  Imagine climbing three mountains, and they all increase in size.  Once you’ve got to the top of the first mountain, you feel good.  This gives you the incentive to climb the next mountain.  Once you’ve got to the top of the second mountain, you feel great and you’re now eager and excited about the third mountain.  Well, once you’ve climbed the third mountain, you feel fantastic, confident and strong about any future challenges.

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