Laura Johnson reveals top tips on how managers can cope with a baby boom in their own office
Joy, excitement, panic, fear – all the emotions pregnancy can unearth. And not just in the expectant mother. As a manager, you instinctively want to be happy when a colleague reveals their baby news, but behind your smile lurks dread. How can you cover their role for up to 12 months? What happens if they want to come back on part-time hours? Imagine if two, three or four of your team members excitedly thrust baby scans under your nose within a matter of months. Would you be prepared for a baby boom?
It’s at times like these a robust maternity policy is essential. “It means the pregnant employee knows when they need to communicate with their manager,” says Joanne Thoday, HR manager for international law firm, Withers LLP. “It lays out timescales and explains the individual's right for time off for appointments and antenatal classes. Therefore the person is more likely to come forward early with their news, allowing you to plan effectively to cover their role.”
Setting out maternity rights clearly helps alleviate some of the worry for expectant mothers about how work is going to fit into this new chapter of their life. New parents are looking in particular for:
: Maternity leave notification deadlines, the earliest date for starting maternity leave, guidelines around returning to work.
Pay and benefits: Maternity pay and leave entitlement and the impact on the pregnant employee’s standard contractual benefits (eg accruing holiday, pension entitlement).
Additional support: Time off for antenatal care, keep in touch days, paternity rights and the option for the spouse or partner to take leave too.
This structure helps pregnant employees feel supported during maternity leave, but the bigger challenge is making them feel happy to return to work further down the line. Creating an environment where employees feel confident that family and work life can mix well is a priority for a manager faced with a baby boom. This takes more than a standard maternity policy.
At Withers they provide specialist mentoring and coaching for new parents, arrange buddy support for those on maternity leave, run a parent networking group, host supportive family themed seminars and have clear, flexible and remote working policies. As a result, they are nurturing role-model working parents who can then share their experience with new parents on how a successful work-family balance can be achieved.
When it comes to the return to work, managers experiencing a baby boom should expect multiple requests for flexible working. But before you pick up the phone to a recruitment agency in a panic, spend the team’s Christmas party budget on job advertising and resign yourself to months of training up new staff, think first about how you can more creatively manage the talent you already have.
“One of the biggest pitfalls that managers and staff fall into is thinking flexible work means part-time work – it really doesn’t,” says Fiona Severs, director of flexible employment consultancy Lexington Gray. “Just because someone is at home with a baby, it doesn't mean they are looking to do reduced hours. It may just be that they’re looking to shift their work hours or work more from home.”
Sometimes a request to work three days per week is not actually driven by a desire to work reduced hours. “Once you talk more, you might find they want to work full time but they just can’t do the nine to five or they can't do the commute anymore, or they simply need to be available to collect their child from nursery,” says Severs. “Then it’s about looking for more creative ways of working, rather than sticking to core hours or apportioning your nine to five. There can be real benefits to having someone on duty between six and eight in the evening when everyone else is travelling home, for example.”
Flexibility isn't necessarily a compromise, a deficit or a bad thing for your team
A positive attitude towards flexible working is probably the most important thing a leader managing a team with more than its quota of expectant mums can have. “Flexibility isn't necessarily a compromise, a deficit or a bad thing for your team,” Severs says. “There is a lot of waste everyday because we try to fit round pegs into square holes.”
Guiding a team through a baby boom is essentially a talent management task. Managers can prepare ahead for such circumstances by creating an agile team structure that can shift and adapt to changes in individual team member’s personal circumstances. By doing this, if you do find yourself inundated with baby news again, next time you’ll be able to smile. Genuinely.