At Mumager we don’t just work with mums we work with managers and organisations to enable a culture of inclusivity.
One of the workshops we run is a 2 hour intensive workshop for line managers. During the session we look at best practices on how to manage maternity leave, starting from the moment the mum shares her happy news right through to their first months back in the workplace.
I thought it would be useful to share some of the best practices that line managers have agreed upon during these workshops.
- The happy news
When mum-to-be tells you she’s pregnant, react positively. Give a warm congratulations and be sincere. Even though you may be freaking out about all the work and projects and resources and how on earth will you manage, just for the moment put that to one side and give her the reaction she deserves
Remember that your team member may not have told others yet so check with her about when and how she plans to tell the rest of the team. Don’t make any assumptions and certainly don’t tell anyone unless you’ve agreed this.
- Health & Safety & HR processes
Know your responsibilities
As an employer you have a duty of care towards your team. Once your colleague is ok to share the news with others you will need to check what the processes are in your own organization .
Arrange H&S assessments
Whatever environment you work in there will need to be a health and safety assessment. Find out who in your organization can help you with this.
Speak to your HR contact. They will be able to let you know of any paperwork that may need to be completed either to claim statutory maternity pay or to confirm dates of leave. Make sure you are clear yourself on the date they will be starting maternity leave – remember that circumstances may mean they leave slightly earlier than planned so be prepared.
- Preparing for the leave
Check-in regularly with your colleague. Find out how they are feeling and discuss any impacts the pregnancy may be having on them. No-one wants to take more time off than is necessary with morning sickness etc and it’s helpful if the employee knows that you understand.
Agree contact during leave
Discuss what contact they would like while they are on leave. Would they like an update email every few weeks, or perhaps a telephone call once a month? Do they want to know about promotion opportunities or changes within the team? Perhaps they don’t want any contact at all. Whichever option works for them then go with it.
Handovers & customers
Depending on your workplace you may or may not get cover for their workload. If possible arrange a handover. If this isn’t possible then make sure you understand what are the priorities for the person going on leave – what’s important that they complete or delegate. Make sure you know stakeholders and customers are aware of any change in personnel.
Returning to work plans
You may want have a conversation about their thoughts on returning to work. The aim of this is not to pressure them for a return date but more to start understanding what childcare plans they have and the impact this could have on working hours. If you have flexible working options perhaps you can start to explain these without needing any decisions.
You know your team. If they are the kind of person who would like a send-off then arrange one. If they’d prefer to go on leave with no fuss then at the very least be there on the last day to wish them well.
The new baby news
Ask them how they want the baby news announced, they may not even have thought about it. Would they prefer that you announce it or would they like to send out the happy news to their colleagues?
- During maternity leave
Stick to the communication plan
Stick to whatever communication plan you agreed. If you promised a bi-weekly email then make sure you do it. Don’t let it be a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’
When you hear that the baby has arrived make sure you reach out and send congratulations. Let the team know or follow whatever communication plan you had agreed on.
Keep in touch with HR
Keep in touch with HR about return dates. Remember that the mum has the option of extending maternity leave through additional maternity leave of up to 16 weeks in Ireland, using parental leave of up to 18 weeks, using up unused vacation and public holidays that were accrued during maternity leave. A mum may say that she’ll return after 6 months but could choose to extend that for a longer period. If you prepare for this, then you’ll be able to take any change to plans in your stride rather than feel annoyed or frustrated.
Keeping in touch days
When you know you colleague is due back to work soon you may want to arrange to meet up with them. This could be informally for a cup of tea away from the office, it may be with baby for an hour in the office. The two of you can decide what works. The aim of this is to make sure your colleague feels supported and that you’re looking forward to having them back.
If there’s an option of flexible working or a staggered return to work, make sure that this is clear and agreed.
Get the workplace ready
Make sure that the workplace of your team member is ready for their return. If they have a desk make sure that it’s clean and tidy. If logins have changed then make sure you get these ready. Let people know of your colleague’s return date.
- Back at work
Be there for their first day back and given them an opportunity to settle back in gently.
Listen to concerns
Arrange a meeting to talk about any concerns they may have about being back at work. This could be about the demands of the job or how they are coping with new childcare arrangements. Let the employee talk. Listen without interruption.
If their role has been covered while they were away, avoid talking about how brilliant person X was. You want to foster an environment of support for the returning mum. Arrange a handover if possible.
Return to work support programmes
If your workplace has any programs for returning mums such as Mumager’s Ramp-Up workshop, make sure you let the employee know and encourage them to attend.
Talk about their work
Be aware that the person’s life has changed since they were last in the office. As the weeks progress talk to them about their work priorities, keep checking in on how they are. Don’t make assumptions. Plenty of women come back to work and are looking for progression and promotion and want to avoid being put on the ‘mummy track’. You won’t know what’s important for them unless you ask.
Be understanding and supportive. Many women feel as if their confidence has taken a knock after a long period away from work.
Be open to discussing any issues and challenges
Discuss what will happen if their child is sick. Young children in crèches are susceptible to catch any and all viruses and infections which could mean the employee needing time off and/or flexible arrangements. Discuss this as and when it happens and help put a strategy into place that works for the individual and the team.
Fostering an inclusive environment requires a deliberate effort on the part of the employer. If you’d like more information on our line manager workshop or our Ramp-Up workshop for mums returning to work then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org