Overcoming the stress of returning to work

4 min

From 15 weeks in Belgium to 52 in the UK, each country takes a different approach to maternity leave. Regardless, it’s still a lengthy step away from the working environment, and during this time, companies can completely change. Whether it’s worrying about a shift in culture or being away from their child for the first time, a return to work can be daunting for new parents.

In the ‘Return to Work’ article we published as part of the Spring 2020 Armstrong Craven Review, we interviewed recent returners and senior leaders in companies around the world to discover the most significant barriers affecting those returning to work. Through our research, we found that 83% of participants felt nervous about returning to work, with around 50% admitting they’d considered handing in their notice within a year.

The shift from full-time parenthood to a working-parent can present new challenges. Not only is there plenty of catching up to do, but family commitments also need to fit into the schedule. The previous stats show retention can be an issue for many businesses, so employers need to ensure they have the right support in place for parents to transition back into the office quickly.

What issues do women face when returning to work?

We asked those taking part in our Spring 2020 Armstrong Craven Review to discuss the issues they faced while on maternity leave which made returning to work a more daunting process. Despite many different answers, there was a clear trend in areas where company processes didn’t provide adequate support.

Lack of communication from their employer

While contact between those on maternity leave and the business should be limited, there’s still a need for a new parent to be updated. Managers within a company are allowed to make ‘reasonable contact’, and this should mainly be used to inform them about significant changes.

For example, two scenarios include:

  • Updating the employee on pay rises, bonuses and internal vacancies to ensure they can still take advantage of any promotion opportunities.
  • Consulting the employee on any proposed redundancies or organisational restructures to ensure they’re fully up-to-speed when they return.

Failure to do this can lead to the alienation of the employee, especially if they were not made aware of significant changes within the business. Stepping back into the office can be tough, but if the entire landscape has changed, then those returning to work may feel like it’s time to find somewhere new.

Chasing their employer on KIT days and return dates

Keeping in touch days (KIT) are an essential part of an employee’s maternity rights. It gives them up to 10 days where they may work for the company without it affecting their maternity pay. It also allows new parents to remain integrated with the business, making the return easier.

However, organising KIT days around a new-born is no easy task and adding an unorganised employer who is unable to confirm dates only adds to the frustrations.

Insufficient handover when returning to work

 When returning from maternity leave, some new parents may find their role has only changed slightly, whereas in other cases, they may find it’s evolved completely. Failing to implement a proper handover process can leave those coming back struggling to adjust to new responsibilities.

A lack of confidence and suffering from imposter syndrome were all discussed during our interviews. So, a lack of structure for those returning will only exacerbate these feelings as they return to an environment which may not be the same.

How can businesses solve returning to work issues?

Being a working parent is tough, and employer support is going to be needed. Fortunately, the typical workplace is seeing a move away from presenteeism as work from home schemes and flexible working hours become the norm. Children get sick, childcare plans fail, and a bad night’s sleep can ruin productivity, so employers need to be able to offer solutions that work for the employee.

Alongside this, many of those returning to work often see a change to part-time work as a practical solution. It allows new parents to spend more time at home with the family, while also continuing to help the business and maintaining their career by continuing working.

Unfortunately, it seems there still needs a shift in workplace culture to accommodate those returning to work. Of all the respondents we spoke to, only half were satisfied with the level of support they received from their employers.

Alongside this, we even discovered one individual was made redundant during their leave, leading to a fight for the maternity pay they were entitled to. This shows that maternity discrimination still happens around the world.

At  Armstrong Craven, we’ve interviewed experts from leading companies including Lloyds Banking Group, Moneysupermarket.com and Credit Suisse, to find out how major organisations were addressing this topic and to understand a range of employee experiences.

To find out more, download the full Return To Work Article today for more insight.

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