Communication disconnect: Employers and Mums returning to work

by 21 Feb 2012

Communication disconnect: Employers and Mums returning to workOrganisations are increasingly recognising that paid parental leave alone isn’t enough to make returning parents feel supported and equipped to return to work – yet turnover of Mothers returning to work remains high.

For Emma Walsh, a background in HR and her own experiences of re-entering the workforce after becoming a mother provided unique insight into the equation of Mums returning to work. Walsh consulted her friends and colleagues about the challenges they had experienced when returning to work, and what help and support they had received. “Overwhelmingly, the answer was none,” Walsh said.

Her experiences led her to found Mums@Work,a provider of return to work guidance. The organisation is now a leader in facilitating return-to-work programs, and designs in-house programs about how to facilitate parents returning to work. At KPMG, Walsh said the proper conversations were simply not taking place. However, after increasing diversity training and providing more specialist support to returning parents, the organisation has experienced a more successful re-integration process.

According to Walsh, the way organisations tackle the return to work transition has improved. “I think there’s been a significant shift in the last six years, and we’ve seen much more willingness to acknowledge a need for flexibility for people with families, from a time when a lot of parents almost had to pretend they didn’t have kids, and just get on with it.”

Lucille Rogers, a mother of three and a former HR director with more than 15 years in the business, found that despite dropping to three days a week, the “hour’s equation” still didn’t add up. Rogers fully expected to completely transition back into her role, but didn’t account for a new variable: the emotional side of returning to work. Rogers was in the unique duel position of understanding the business requirements from a HR perspective and also as a new Mum returning to work. For Rogers, who is now a USANA Health Sciences associate, the biggest pitfall was estimating what would be achievable before taking leave. “At the end of the day, a workplace is a workplace and a business needs as many hours as they can get. But for Mum’s, they need flexibility, and of course it becomes emotional.”

Walsh said successful re-integration is achievable, and time and time again one of the main pitfalls employers make is not sitting down with the employee after they return and doing a ‘job redesign’. “So often Mums go in with unrealistic expectations about what can actually do. The focus needs to shift from what they can’t do, to what they can do.”

-Stephanie Zillman


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  • by Tammy Tansley 21/02/2012 2:46:49 PM

    It can come as somewhat of a shock that the old ways of working pre children just don't work anymore. Ie - pre children, you could just stay as late as needed to get the work done, you could go out for those impromptu drinks with the team etc. Post babies, there are childcare arrangements, pick up times to honour etc. Not to mention the struggle of intellectual (value of career to self etc) vs emotional (guilt of leaving said children). Add to that an impatience from organisations, and the need to 'get it done' and it's no wonder it all just gets too hard. The RTW programmes are a great idea - but there needs to be work pre leave as well, so that new parents have some idea of what is coming..

  • by ROHAN SQUIRCHUK 21/02/2012 5:23:36 PM

    Tammy I agree - the work of Alison Hill from Pragmatic Thinking on 'Maternity Matters' is great in this area. I also think that 'we' all need to work on 'Equal Parenting' - remembering that both Dad and Mum [or whatever combination] are responsible for 'care' and one personally [generally Mum] is not there 24/7 on call with a 'helper' but that both parents are really important. I love your comment 'some idea of what is coming' - I agree and I also know, there's a level of who would go there if they really knew?

  • by Alison Hill 21/02/2012 10:11:18 PM

    I agree with you Tammy that the conversations about expectations and 'what if's' need to start to occur well before maternity leave. There is a great window of opportunity for organisations to collaborate with women prior to leave to look at job design as well as start to prepare for the emotional element of being a Mum, as well as what that looks like in a return to work capacity. The reality is that disruption is the birthplace of innovation, and forward-thinking workplaces who embrace this will reap the reward that maternity leave can both support families AND actually improve business. This is not an either/or situation.

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