Last week, The New York Times included a quote from me in a great article, “Taking a Positive Approach to an Employee’s Maternity Leave.” Because this is an important topic that many employers struggle with, here are a couple of the key points from the article I wanted to highlight and expand upon:
Of all of the inevitable work+life realities a workforce will experience, maternity should be the least feared. Unlike illness, accidents, eldercare or spouse relocation, you can plan for it in advance.
Every small business owner should take note of how effectively and proactively the leaders in the article addressed the work+life issues of their employees. Unfortunately, this is still unusual. From my experience, most employers refuse to acknowledge and build into their day-to-day operating model contingencies for dealing with the intersections between work and other parts of life even though they are inevitable. Everyone has a personal life. Everyone. Not just women who become mothers.
I’m always baffled by the panic of these same in-denial business owners every time someone becomes pregnant, takes care of a sick parent, has a heart attack, or stays home because of their child’s snow day. By facing the reality that work+life conflict is a business issue, they’d create a culture that encouraged an open, ongoing, problem-solving dialogue about how to flexibly manage and adapt. Everything would run so much more smoothly.
Whereas eldercare, illness, accidents, swine flu and snowstorms are usually unexpected, in most cases maternity gives you months to plan! As the article shows, companies benefit from an open dialogue even if a new mother decides not to come back to work or returns on a part-time basis. And it’s important to note that new mothers aren’t the only ones who may choose not to come back to work or who would be helped by a phased return after a work+life challenge. People with elder care responsibilities, a long illness or accident can also benefit.
Prepare employees with the skills and tools to create a solution-oriented plan.
The article does a good job emphasizing the need for employees to start the conversation by thinking through an initial solution (for a contrasting example of what can go very wrong when an owner/manager tries to figure out the right answer for a pregnant employee, click here).
But knowing how to create and present a well thought out plan is a skill set. Most employees need to be shown “how.”
A step-by-step process for developing a win-win flexibility plan is outlined in my book “Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You” and is a great place to start (excerpted in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days blog series). In fact one of the reasons I wrote the book five years ago was to give small business owners a resource to help their employees create win-win flexible work+life fit solutions.
A one-size-fits-all, across-the-board “policy” related to how maternity or any other work+life reality will be addressed doesn’t work. BUT, it is a good idea to have a consistent process in place to which everyone has equal access.
This consistent process should outline the unique circumstances of an individual employee’s job and life that they should consider to determine the solution that will work for them personally and for the business. Even though the outcomes will vary, a clear process maintains consistency by virtue of the fact that everyone had access to the same approach and parameters. Again, check out the work+life fit process in my book to get started.
What do you think? How do we get more companies of all sizes to come out of denial and face the fact that work+life realities are just part of their day-to-day operating reality that they need to plan for? And how do we get them to embrace an ongoing, process-based, solution-oriented flexible response?
4 thoughts on “How Employers Can Love (or Stop Hating) Maternity Leaves”
The post makes excellent points about planning. A staffing plan is incomplete unless it can accommodate individuals having personal lives with the potential for events that can dominate their attention, time, and energy for a while.
A consistent, transparent process is essential for conveying a sense of justice among employees. People attend to one another at work and they monitor evidence of fair treatment closely. A second element is teamwork: to the extent that employees’ are familiar with one another’s work, they are better able to adapt to changing patterns of work.
You are so right–cross-training is one of the keys to and an outcome of effective flexibility strategy implementation. Thank you for adding that important point.
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