Mum’s the word: Navigating the uncertain terrain of maternity transitions

by 22 May 2012

Picture this scene: A working woman has had the most magnificent weekend at home with her partner. On Saturday morning two blue lines on a pregnancy test kit confirmed what they had been looking forward to so badly; they were having a baby! But here she now finds herself on Monday morning, driving to work, worried sick and so nervous she feels like vomiting, and it has nothing to with morning sickness.

The reason for her worry and nervousness? She knows at some point she has to tell her boss those two words ‘I’m pregnant’.

The reality is that for HR professionals and Managers the gap created by having a valued employee go on leave for an extended period of time can feel like a burden. The issue of maternity transitions affects all of us in the workplace. Either you know someone who’s pregnant, been pregnant, you’ve been pregnant yourself, wish to be pregnant, or wish everyone would stop talking about it and just get on with the job.

Regardless of where you fit into the maternity discussion there are three major strategies that HR and Managers can employ to effectively manage this process.

Three major strategies to effectively manage maternity transitions

Whether you are in HR or a Manager seeking to relieve the burden created in this process there are three strategies that you can do to maximise the opportunities created by maternity transitions:


  1. Get ready


Use the window of opportunity before maternity leave

The reality is that there is often anywhere between 4–6 months from when a women let’s their workplace know they are pregnant and when they go on leave. It is critical to utilize this time effectively and to embrace the nesting instinct by investing time early and often into regular conversations before leave commences. Focus on how to pass on key workplace knowledge and information. Workplace knowledge primarily falls into two areas: 1) Capability - such as what do you do in your job, how do you do it, what processes can be systematised, handed over, adapted or changed, how can things run better or differently. 2) Connections - business is build on relationships. You need to treat key connections as though they are as valuable as money (which they are). Nurture and facilitate genuine handovers not only with customers but also with suppliers and internal relationships.

Investing in this process early not only makes smart business sense it also allows women to be fully present once their new born arrives, without any need to feel guilty that work has been left unfinished.


  1.  Get real


Embrace the changes and connect with the moments

Having a baby is a major life event. In your role within HR and as a Manager this is the time to embrace the changes at work and keep connected with women on leave. Continue investing into the relationship genuinely and authentically. Women will remember their last interaction with your workplace, make sure it is a positive one.

For Mum’s this is the time to get real about the changes that are happening and with blurry eyes battle through perfectionism. There is no such thing as a perfect Mum. The most important thing is knowing what the most important thing is for them and doing that. Your workplace can support women to embrace these precious moments.


  1. Get re-engaged


Integrate new work identity with family life

The dual roles of work and parenting are challenging, exciting, fulfilling, draining, inspiring, and tiring all at once (and that can all be before breakfast!). Finding ways to navigate the balance between Weetbix and weekly team meetings, between change management and change tables, and between playdough and your passion is critical for professional mums.

The reality is that the job that the woman left is not the same job she is returning to. Workplaces need to focus on re-engaging women back into the team environment, into the business purpose and ensuring that key tasks and business strategies are executed.

HR professionals need to become confident in talking through the fears and issues that are presented within maternity transitions. Coupled with a mindset of new possibilities of working it is here that the opportunities for both businesses and families will become realised. The future is flexible and it’s time to embrace it.

About the author

Alison Hill is a registered psychologist who consults and delivers training programs to HR professionals, Managers and workplaces on strategies for them to step into the future of maternity transitions. As is a proud and passionate working Mum herself (two kids under 5) Alison understands the opportunities and challenges presented by balancing these key roles. Alison’s insight are aimed to both improve business and provide greater support to families through this time and will be an asset to maternity strategy in your organisation.