Monday, February 7, 2011

Modern Workforce: Maternity Leave

As a working mother of three, I consider myself something of a maternity leave connoisseur. So, in honor of the latest addition to my working mom emporium, I’ve decided to kick off my Modern Workforce series with a post on maternity leave.

Although I’ve been fortunate in my own maternity leave experiences I find that the majority of companies still treat maternity leave as a necessary evil rather than a differentiated way to attract, retain and engage talented people.

Talk about a missed opportunity! The working moms I know are some of the most efficient workers you can get for money. They have to be so they can get home, cook dinner, fold laundry, wipe noses, change diapers, bandage boo boos, check homework, read stories, bake brownies, bring kids to bed then finish up their day jobs after the kids go to bed.

Think these women can’t handle a little work? Think again: These flexible, multitasking moms are a workforce to reckon with.

That’s nice, you say, but at company XYZ we can’t afford to work around people’s schedules.

Maybe that’s true, but are you sure you aren’t stuck in a time warp? Not every job lends itself to flexibility but quite a few jobs lend themselves to more flexibility than you’d think. Plus, given the global, virtual, multi-generation, multi-location nature of the modern workforce, flexible thinking is no longer a luxury.

Here's a list of maternity leave best practices that I’ve compiled over the years by speaking with dozens of working moms about what works and what doesn't:

  • Think branding –Talented people with kids want to work for companies that demonstrate strong family values.
  • Be generous – You can force a new mom back to work after a few weeks but frankly, she still has baby on the brain. As the baby gets a bit older she’ll start longing for the office again so why not give her enough time to get excited about coming back?
  • Plan it out – Don’t diminish the joy of parenthood with stressful ambiguity. Discuss work coverage and re-entry before maternity leave begins and plan what may be planned.
  • Be flexible – If your company allows new moms to work from home, you can reduce down time as well as earn loyalty and gratitude. If Siemens can do it, so can you.
  • Paternity leave – In Germany moms and dads are allowed to split their legally allowed leave time. Talk about gender diversity!
  • Part-time – A former manager of mine once said that part-time workers are the deal of the century because they don’t waste time on lunch, gossip, staring at their keyboard, smoking, etc. Is this an option you can offer?
  • Pony up! – Have a policy to send the new mother some flowers, a onesie with the company logo or a gift certificate to show support and appreciation. Don’t assume the manager will think of it, they hardly ever do.
  • Support network – First time moms may not know how to find the right work life balance. Why not ask experienced working mothers in the organization to write down and/or present some tips for new working moms?
  • Career development – Working moms may adjust their career goals to raise their kids but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any. There’s no reason a working mom can’t effectively manage a team, a project or a territory.
  • Accountability - Clearly not all working moms are top performers, any more than all top performers are good managers. Hold working moms - and everyone else - accountable for timely, high quality work.

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