My Company Made It So Easy For Me To Come Back After Maternity Leave

Reagan: Honey I am having a baby in two weeks. You must accept this now and stop pretending I just got fat.
Ava: Oh chubby chubby chubby.

This is a quote from the new show Up All Night in which Christina Applegate plays Reagan who is days away from going on maternity leave and her boss Ava (Maya Rudolph) has been in denial and is not thrilled with the idea that things will never be the same. It is a bit of a funny example but the point is some employers do not adjust well when an employee returns from maternity leave. They don’t understand that the woman’s life has changed now that she a child. Many women have every intention of going back to work after a baby and then just decide they can’t part with their young child. According to statistics one out of every five pregnant women will not return to work. Then there are those women who go back to work and find that their employer is not helpful enough by giving them some flexibility in their schedule, allowing for pumping breaks if they are breastfeeding, not making them travel too much, etc., Some companies even try to test women who come back from maternity leave by specifically scheduling meetings at certain times and keeping these women late at work to make sure they are loyal.

But some companies realize that they need to make adjustments and be more flexible in order to keep these talented women at their companies. A flexible work schedule helps employers retain mothers who have just returned to their jobs after giving birth, according to a new study. ”When confronted by one or more job demands, a flexible schedule provides working moms with alternatives for meeting those demands while caring for their newborns. When working moms are better able to control their work environment and adapt, work-related stress is less likely to become a family issue,” study author Dawn S. Carlson, a professor of management at Baylor University. She and her colleagues also found that working women with new babies were more likely to stick with their jobs if they have job security and can make use of a variety of their job skills, while the effects of work-related stress on their physical and mental health increases the risk of them leaving their job. The researchers surveyed 179 full-time working mothers in North Carolina, average age 31, at three intervals, scheduled at four, eight and 12 months after they gave birth. The women had worked an average of 39.7 hours per week and planned on returning to work 30 or more hours a week four months after giving birth.

We talked with a few women who both experienced working for companies that were great to them after they came back maternity leave as well as the employers who decided this was the best strategy for the company. Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, was Director of Marketing for the same company back when she had her first baby in 2004. Now she was part of a family business so it was actually her father she was approaching about changing things after she had her baby but the same principles apply.

“My father was asking “What are you going to do after the baby?” And like a lot of first time moms I didn’t deal with the reality of what I was going to do. I checked out a few daycare centers but I didn’t like any of them and I just ignored it and then all of a sudden I had a baby boy. My dad first said I couldn’t bring my son to work with me but I basically said I can either come back after six weeks or take a full three months of maternity. So I put it in terms that I can just be gone for a while or I can be in the office nursing all day and be there but maybe just miss a few calls and meetings. I think he started to panic a bit when he thought of three months without me. So I just brought my son into the business and my dad quickly realized that clearly this works.

Basically I forced the issue and it turned out really well. I had my own office [for pumping privacy], I had a pack and play and I had a baby who loved to be in a sling. He lived in there all day! I really worked fairly easily with him there. He came in everyday with me except for about 15 hours per week until he was nine months old. It probably was too long but it worked. By the time I had a second baby, it wasn’t even a discussion that I would bring the baby to work with me.”

Nicole Atkinson used to work for a public relations advertising agency and then followed her CEO to her own new company. She was six months pregnant when she decided to go with her boss even though she feared she wouldn’t have healthcare or get promoted but she was in for a surprise. Her new boss opened an office right near her parents which helped her schedule a lot once the baby was born. She was allowed to come back to work four days a week. She said the company was great about scheduling staff meetings around her pumping schedule (she pumped for eight months.) When traveling for work her boss made sure it was only for the shortest amount of time. “Anything she could to make my life easier, she did,” said Nicole. She worried that she wouldn’t work as hard in those four days but she did. She has since been promoted twice and has gotten raises and bonuses.

“Maternity leave is harder than working in an office. I respect women who stay at home but i need to be doing many things to not go nutty. I took three months off and it was hard to leave my kids but now I go home at lunch everyday to see my kids and put them down for their naps. It was easier for me going back because I had an environment of support.”

Parsons said when she became CEO in 2007 she decided to make the flexible maternity policy permanent. According to her, women can now bring the baby into the office if they are nursing the baby or if they aren’t. If they don’t have a private office for nursing the company provides them with an office with a closed door to use with a computer or a phone. They still get the paid six weeks of maternity leave and they offer them three months more if they want it.

“This kind of schedule keeps employees happy and productive. Even if you aren’t a pregnant woman I think it is shows other employees that we really are a family friendly company. We put their money with their mouth is. We had one woman who wasn’t as comfortable bringing the baby into work with her so she took the six weeks and then did part time for three months and now she actually still works part time . She said she wanted to work but had a fussy baby. At the same time though she said like felt like she was going a little insane staying home all day. She said I need to do something besides the baby. We worked out a deal and it has gone really well. We pay for her phone and internet connection from home. It’s not a lot of money.

This woman didn’t know when she was pregnant if she would want to even come back as a working mom. I made sure to say I want you to come back to work but I totally understand and am willing to be flexible. I said after six weeks let’s give it a shot and just work when you can and then we can talk after two months. I think if I had said “You have to make a decision,” she may have considered other options, like perhaps a more supportive company. But because I didn’t pressure her, I think it helped a lot. I feel very strongly working as hard as I can to support working moms. “

Nicole echoed that for some women during maternity being able to work, even if it is just a little bit everyday, it can really help to be plugged in. It is great when a company allows for women to work at their own pace and when they can when on maternity leave. Being able to be connected makes them feel important and needed.

According to Working Mother, the five most important benefits for working moms are flexible work hours followed by the ability to use sick leave to care for children, predictable work hours, availability of part-time work and paid maternity leave. “Job security heightens motivation and energy, particularly for mothers who are sensitive to the security of their jobs after returning from maternity leave. When working mothers believe that their tenure with an organization is not at risk, they will have more energy and other resources with which to fully engage and perform both at work and at home,” added Merideth J. Ferguson, Ph.D., assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Baylor and a co-author of the study mentioned earlier. Clearly, in most cases, catering to new mothers helps them at their job. Whether it is letting them work part-time for a period or providing privacy for them to stick to their regimented nursing schedule, these things help make them working mom transition better. Even if an employer just says we are here to support you and let’s figure out what we can do makes a big impact.

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