Best practice for managing maternity leave for line managers
In a nutshell? “Ask don't assume, encourage Keep In Touch days and demonstrate your commitment to helping your colleague have a smooth return."
When your colleague is on leave
Send invitations to major strategic announcements, away days, team lunches and any other activity your colleague has said she’s interested in and underline that you know her head may well be in another space entirely and it’s acceptable not to respond to your contact. Send your leaver a personal card during the break to remind him/her that you’re looking forward to them coming back. You might also send a copy of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work by Jessica Chivers (Hay House, 2011) to reinforce the message: ‘I want you back.’ This isn’t a replacement for the formal process of managing a maternity leave, it’s one human being reassuring another in a possibly difficult and uncertain time. Your tone is important - an email with the subject header 'Hitting the ground running' probably won't do much to reassure your colleague.
Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP
Fiona Scott, senior associate, CMS Cameron McKenna
Sarah Washbrook, solicitor, Gateley LLP
Solicitor, private practice
Share praise or give recognition whilst your colleague is away for things she has contributed to, such as client feedback, internal stakeholder comments, a successful launch of a process/initiative she was involved in. Equally, when your colleague has returned, regularly remind her of strengths and point to times you’ve seen them in action. Suggest new ways she could use them to give her a stretch and get closer to any career aspirations shared with you.
Susanne McGraw, solicitor, private practice
Alison Stuart, lecturer, RGU
Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP
Employees who work flexibly are, on average, more committed to the organisation than other employees who don’t ‘benefit’ from such arrangements (see Kelliher & Anderson, 2010). Other research shows those who work flexibly feel grateful and also the need to reciprocate through working harder. A study by Catalyst (2013) found that women in organisations that offer flexible working are 30% more likely to aspire to high-level positions than those at organisations that do not offer flexible ways of working. By highlighting this type of research, you're sowing the seeds to win over a line manager who may be otherwise reluctant to support flexible working.
Karen Wilkie, solicitor, Peterkins
Jenny Allan, senior associate, CMS Cameron McKenna
Ian Rodger, solicitor, Williamson and Henry
Lindsay Anderson, solicitor, Stewart and Watson
Carolyn Burns, director, Maclay, Murray and Spens LLP
Joanna Clark, solicitor, DLA Piper LLP
What the law says about flexible working:
- Since 30 June 2014, all employees who have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks have had the right to request flexible working (previously just parents and carers).
- The right to request does not mean the right to have requests granted - it means employers must handle requests in a 'reasonable manner.' A reasonable manner includes assessing the advantages and disadvantages of granting a request.
- An employee can only make one flexible working request per year and a decision must be given by the employer within three months of a submission (or longer if agreed).
- The application must include: the date; a statement that this is a statutory request; details of how the person wants to work flexibly and when s/he would like to start; an explanation of how s/he thinks flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with; and, a statement saying if and when s/he has made a previous application.
Types of flexible working
- Part-time hours
- Compressed hours
- Annualised hours
- Working from home/remotely
- Term-time working only
- Different hours during term-time and school holidays
- Guaranteed time off in school holidays
- Staggered hours, eg coming in 'early' and leaving 'early'
- Specifically timed lunch break
- Working from home when a child is ill
- Different hours on different days or under certain circumstances
Women who engage in strengths-based coaching with a coach skilled in career transitions report feeling more confident, better able to manage upwards and clearer on what they can do to effect a smooth return to work than those that don't. Coaching time allows your colleague to talk about their life in the round and create solutions to personal and professional challenges that are not always comfortably discussed with a line manager. Where once coaching was seen as remedial, coaching is now viewed by many people who are coached as evidence of their company's belief in, and willingness to invest in, their development (Skiffington and Zeus, 2003). Does your company offer this? Do you offer out-placement coaching? If you offer the latter but not the former, that's a good basis on which to talk to HR about comeback coaching - better to plough money into helping someone who's staying in the organisation than someone who isn't.
If you've not already talked to your team member about her return to work being period of transition (perhaps on a KIT day, for example), it's good to talk about this on day one of her return. Transition simply means a period of adjustment where your expectations of her are different (more leeway, less demands made of her, time spent on different things to business as usual for a number of weeks. (four to six is probably about right). Some organisations have formal transition policies - for example, employees at one law firm who are returning from maternity leave have a 50% reduction in their targets for the four weeks before they leave and the four weeks after they return.
Kate Temple, solicitor, public sector
Solicitor, Scottish Government
Clare Davey, solicitor, JWK Legal Group Limited
Claire Whyte, solicitor, RBS