This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. Perinatal mental health refers to a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and the first year after birth. In support of this week, our article explores the struggles that employees’ have when returning to the workplace after maternity leave.
Returning to work after maternity leave can be really daunting. Many of us experience a form of anxiety about returning to work when we have had some time off. Therefore it is understandable for those returning from maternity leave to experience high levels of anxiety after such an extended period of time off. Research by TENA has found that almost one-third (31%) of women stated that they found it ‘harder than expected’ to return after an average of 10 months of maternity leave. There are many reasons why employees may feel anxious upon their return. As an employer, it is important to understand the reasons in order to support and reduce these feelings.
Returning mothers are likely to feel a number of different emotions. As well as this, certain employees could have different emotions compared to another.
Understanding these emotions and knowing how to react to those who are feeling this way is so important. It can help to diffuse some of the negative emotions felt.
There are certain things you can do as an employer to help the transition back into work easier for your employees. Employers need to take steps before and whilst the mother is on maternity leave in order for a smooth return. An informal meeting to welcome your employee back is not enough.
These are the perfect way to prepare the employee for their return. Both the employee and the employer are able to voice any worries or concerns, as well as prepare for a smooth transition.
This will help the employee get back up to speed with what is happening in the company and their role. The aim of the induction period is for the employee to feel comfortable and settled back into the company again.
All employees have a statutory right to request flexible working however, there is no right to flexible working. So employees can ask to change or reduce hours when they return to work but it doesn’t mean you have to accept the request.
Employers should be empathetic to the situation that new mothers are in and be fair with these requests. Flexible working requests should be considered in a reasonable manner and should only be refused with good reason. Have a formal discussion with the employee regarding the request to fully understand the situation and come to an effective conclusion.
Invite all employees to work events, for example, the Christmas party even when they are on maternity leave. This will help them to feel involved in the business and provide an opportunity to catch up with colleagues informally. It is also a good way for them to meet new team members earlier than they would. However, don’t pressure them to come. Some may prefer not to attend when on maternity leave or family commitments may make it difficult to.
Some employers may feel nervous to contact employees whilst they are on maternity leave. Whilst you do not want your employee to feel isolated from the company, you do not want to harass them when they are away. The best way to ensure you achieve the right balance is to make decisions surrounding contact before the employee begins their maternity leave. Decide things such as how much contact should be made, who will contact them, and how to contact them.
Some employers may find it difficult to know what to update them about when contacting them. But it is important to keep them in the loop with any changes or updates to projects in which they have been involved in. In addition, they should be informed of any redundancies and promotions. Failure to inform them could result in a risk of claims of unlawful discrimination.
Around one-fifth of working mothers felt that their bosses and colleagues did not understand what they had been through, both mentally and physically. It is important to be empathetic to mothers once they return to work. Showing support to the employee will only help to put them at ease and happier at work. Happier employees tend to perform better too!
If an employee has experienced negative comments in relation to her maternity leave or return to the workplace and has reported these to you, as an employer you should take these seriously. These complaints should be dealt with in line with your grievance procedure. It is important to highlight to all staff that negative comments surrounding another employee’s pregnancy, maternity leave, or return to work are unacceptable.
This will not only impact your employees’ wellbeing but also their performance. If you do not have the correct support in place, impacts of this could be:
This year Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is from Monday 3rd-Sunday 9th May. It is a week-long campaign that is dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy.
If you are struggling with your perinatal mental health please see Maternal Mental Health Alliance for the support that is available.
Take some time this week to consider if your business has the correct measures and support in place for your employees during and after pregnancy. It is also important to educate your staff within your business of the struggles that women experience when having a baby.
If you have any concerns or would like to discuss how you can support employees who are expecting, please get in contact with the HPC team today.
T: 0844 800 5932