Moms that have experienced the heartwrenching reality of their first day back from maternity leave know the range of emotions that go along with it. Excitement. Nerves. Exhaustion. Desperately trying to forget she just left a piece of her heart at home with a nanny or at daycare with other kids. And then she must push those worries away and jump back into the grind.
So, what can companies do to help ease the transition? Does it start at the top? Well, the fact is, it’s everyone’s job to welcome a new mom back to the office. It’s because businesses can’t afford to lose women in their workforce over a lack of accommodations in juggling work and family. Recent research from the International Labour Organization shows that companies with strong gender diversity initiatives and women in leadership roles improve business outcomes, increase innovation, creativity, brand perception and attract top talent.
To sum up, it simply requires that empathy becomes part of the company culture.
Empathy is a mindset in which we take on the perspective of another person. We see things through their eyes and use that information to take action. We can operationalize empathy in the workplace through policies, rewards, hiring and accountability.
Here are four ways companies and managers can ease a new mother’s transition back to work using empathy throughout.
1. Be flexible.
Flexibility is what every new mom coming back to work craves the most. Remember, she’s getting used to a new routine and now has a second job raising a human. She’ll need time to adjust.
If you don’t provide onsite childcare, allow new moms to come in a bit later or leave a bit earlier to accommodate. Let parents work from home if their kid is sick or daycare falls through—and have enough trust that they will get their work done.
One mom who responded to my Facebook post on the subject shared, “Kids get sick and I get sick. Those three annual sick days won’t cover it. Then I have to burn my vacation time.”
Not with standing policy changes, be patient and flexible. Try not to hold meetings first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, as new moms are still adjusting to their schedule and figuring out how long it takes to get to and from work to childcare. If she gets a call about her child during a meeting, give her a moment to regroup and refocus when she gets back as that call can shake a new mom to her core.
2. Show respect and dignity.
Remember that a new mom might be overwhelmed and exhausted. Don’t dump everything in her lap the minute she sets foot back in the office. Slowly re-orient her to projects, perhaps scheduling a catch-up session or assigning her a transition partner for the first few weeks.
Provide a safe, private, comfortable place for women to pump at work with a comfy chair, a refrigerator, an electrical outlet and a sink, if possible. One mom recalls, “Our sink was in the hall so I had to clean pumping supplies in front of everyone.”
When people know what new parents face, colleagues can be more understanding. One mom said, “No eye rolling when I have to fly out of the office at whatever-o’clock-on-the-dot because daycare charges $1 per minute late fee and there’s often traffic!”
3. Avoid implicit bias.
Just because a new mom might seem a bit scattered and needs flexibility, it doesn’t mean she’s slacking off. Some workplace consultants find that men who leave a work meeting early for a kid’s pickup or doctor’s appointment are seen as “good dads” and congratulated for putting their family first. Women, on the other hand, are seen as not doing their jobs well because they have to put their kids first.
We need to have empathy for how hard this is for all parents and offer equal treatment in regards to all parenting duties. Adopting an empathetic mindset, asking questions before making assumptions, and trying to see another’s point of view before acting helps you as a manager or colleague truly understand how sometimes balancing parenting and work can feel unrealistic.
4. Check in.
Stop guessing at what a new mom is thinking or feeling—ask instead! Ask what she needs to be most successful in her role right now. Don’t assume she can’t travel or that she can’t work late. Keep the lines of communication open and check in often.
The exhaustion of returning to work and maintaining a home need to be acknowledged in whatever way a new parent wants. But you only know what that is when you ask.
If you want your company to succeed, it’s in your best interest as managers and colleagues to ensure people can operate at their fullest potential. And adopting an empathetic mindset, and implementing relevant policies will accelerate that process.
A non-stressed employee is a productive one who can focus and bring their best skills to work for the good of the company and the culture.