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With Mother’s Day having just passed, we’re highlighting how businesses can support mothers returning to the workplace. According to a recent survey by HR training providers DPG, an overwhelming 9 in 10 mothers (87%) faced issues when returning to work after maternity leave.

Over half (54%) struggle to balance time between childcare and work and one-third (33%) struggle financially with the cost of childcare.

Despite the introduction of shared parental leave as a legal requirement in April 2015, women are still bearing most of the responsibility for childcare. In comparison to men, one in five of whom (22%) took no time off at all, women take an average of 12.5 months off work which equates to 24 times more leave.

Lack of support from employers

Findings also revealed that on returning to work, 17% feel marginalised or excluded by colleagues and over one in ten (14%) miss out on promotions because of maternity leave. One in five (19%) even find it necessary to leave their position altogether.

While half (51%) of those mothers surveyed were satisfied with the support they received from their employer, they did indicate what companies could be doing to help the transition back to work easier:

  • Almost half (46%) want more flexible working hours
  • Nearly one-third (30%) want more paid maternity leave
  • Over one-quarter (26%) would like to work from home
  • One in five (21%) want their employer to provide an onsite crèche
  • 17% want more childcare vouchers

What can businesses do?

In addition to those that leave work altogether, currently two-thirds of women (68%) are unable to return to work full time after maternity leave. Other research has revealed that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs in the UK as a direct result of pregnancy or maternity and that record numbers are turning to self-employment.

This represents a huge loss of knowledgeable and experienced employees across many industries and sectors. Taking the feedback from this survey on board, businesses should consider making improvements where possible, which will enhance staff retention and productivity in the long-term.

Incorporating shared parental leave into company culture

Government reports suggest the uptake of shared parental leave is low and this could be because the majority of fathers and parents do not feel comfortable with taking it. More should be done to create an open and accepting culture within businesses, where fathers taking time off when a child is sick, for example, is not ‘frowned upon’.

Paying more maternity pay

The majority of UK businesses pay only Statutory Maternity Pay, which is just £148.68 per week after the first six weeks (rising to £151.20 in April 2020) – almost 70% less than the average UK salary for women in 2018 according to Monster.

As one-third of women struggle financially after having children, better maternity pay can alleviate money-related stress and enable women to focus on returning to work for the right reasons – because they want to rather than because they have to.

Offer flexible hours and remote working

Letting employees work around other commitments can ensure a job is still well done. Whether you provide fixed flexible hours, or allow a parent to make up time if they have to suddenly leave work, you can engender loyalty among your staff who appreciate your understanding.

Likewise, allowing a parent to work from home, either regularly or to finish off their day after the school run, can be extremely convenient for everyone. And, research has shown that people who work from home are more productive.

Help with childcare

An onsite creche will certainly appeal to many working parents, who can cut out travelling to and from a nursery in addition to their place of work every day. Plus, they may not feel as guilty if their child is close by. However, it’s not feasible for all businesses and according to CIPD, only 5% of UK workplaces have such facilities.

Instead, offering childcare voucher schemes can provide parents with significant savings on nursery and childminder costs every year. There are tax and National Insurance savings for the employer too.

In a nutshell, companies that don’t do more to support mothers (and fathers) returning to work risk losing substantial portions of their workforce.

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