How to support employees on maternity leave

By Rachel Griffith-Boyes

As you may know, March is Women's History Month, which encourages people to explore important issues relating to women. We also recently celebrated Mother's Day here in the UK, which got me thinking about how we support mothers in our Totara team; particularly during those early days (and nights) of motherhood when women are likely on maternity leave. We've identified some tips and lessons learnt from our own experiences of maternity leave to share with you. Of course, there are different statutory requirements in different countries, but we hope these lessons are true wherever you are.

1. Planning for maternity leave

Your support for a team member on maternity leave doesn’t start with her leave - it starts much earlier. It's vital to have a clear plan for how you will support your team member before they go on leave. It’s in everyone’s best interests for her to go on leave confident in how you will keep in touch, and what is expected of both sides. This includes simple things like which email address you will use to keep in touch. Does the team member want to check work emails, or would they rather you use their personal email address for important updates? 

2. Regular check-ins

Pregnant woman meeting with her manager in the office

Some of us worry about what we'll miss when we go on holiday for a week, so imagine what it feels like to know that you’re leaving your role, probably occupied by someone else, for many months. It can be hard for women making the transition from their pivotal role in your business, to the pivotal role of mother. But regular check-ins can really help. 

When a member of our Totara Community team recently took maternity leave, we agreed in advance that we would schedule a regular chat every six weeks. I used this time to give her an update on what was happening across the business, staffing changes and any key projects and decisions we had made. She was able to continue to provide input where she wanted to, but most importantly, to still feel part of the team. We made our check-ins optional so she could cancel whenever she wanted to, and the baby was always welcome (and indeed, encouraged) to attend!

Totara Perform check-ins are a great tool to help you manage this. Why not set up a regular schedule of check-ins with team members on maternity or other extended leave?

3. Information sharing

When on maternity leave, there isn’t much time to wade through all the emails that are likely building up in your inbox. But when I took leave, I did want to stay informed about what was happening at work while I was away. Taking steps to share major company announcements and regular internal newsletters can help.

Here at Totara, we're trialing the use of Totara Engage playlists to share our internal company newsletter. Leaders from around the business contribute to the newsletter, which can then be liked, commented on and shared by staff. And of course, it's always there for future reference. This is great for everyone, including staff on maternity leave, who can review it at their convenience either during their leave or on their return to work.

You could even set up a Totara Engage workspace specifically for staff on periods of leave, where you post announcements and updates they might be interested in. 

4. Mind the skills gap

Many women report losing confidence in their professional skills while on maternity leave, which can make the return to work even more daunting. Think about how you'll support them in keeping their skills current, and provide a reboarding pathway on their return. If you work in a regulatory environment, there may be compliance or professional certifications that have lapsed and need to be recertified before they can return to work. Factor this into your planning and communicate it before the team member returns, or even better, before they go on leave. 

With Totara Learn, you can manage all of your certification and recertification needs, assign additional training, or even set up a learning plan or competency framework to build your team member's skills and confidence as they return to work.  

5. Keep in touch days

In the UK, women on maternity leave are entitled to work up to ten days while on maternity leave, known as KIT (keep in touch) days. On a KIT day, the woman works a part or full day for which she is normally paid. KIT days can be used to attend company events, work a day in the office, do training or attend a critical meeting. They can also be used to create a staggered return to work. KIT days help the woman put on her work hat again for a few hours, without the pressure of returning to her full hours immediately. 

And it's not just professional events women on maternity leave might want to attend. Don’t forget to include anyone on long-term leave in your social events too. Invite her to your Christmas party or summer social to maintain engagement and those all-important connections with her colleagues. Help her to feel she’s still an important part of the team, and hasn’t been forgotten. 

6. Every woman is different

Pregnant woman at work holding her bump

All good managers know that every employee is different, and it’s no different for women returning from maternity leave. While some new mothers may want to work flexibly or reduce their hours, others may be more motivated than ever to climb the career ladder. Don’t assume motherhood means the end of aspiration, or that a woman is less engaged or motivated at work. In fact, the skills we learn as parents can often improve our performance at work; after negotiating with a hungry toddler, the boardroom is a breeze! Use your regular check-ins to discuss her aspirations, and use competencies and learning interventions to help her achieve them. 

And of course, these tips apply in many other cases. Perhaps a new father is coming back from extended paternity leave, your team member is returning from a sabbatical or someone is back from secondment in another department. Whether you're welcoming a mother back from maternity leave or an employee returning from extended leave, it pays to keep in touch, maintain engagement and help them prepare for their return.

Want to keep your employees engaged?

If you're looking to improve engagement for employees on maternity leave or any other long-term leave, take a look at our guide revealing six easy ways to maximize employee engagement.