Last week I wrote about the ways in which COVID-19 affects the life and work of pregnant women. This week I want to share my experience and knowledge regarding new mothers who are on maternity leave or are returning to the workplace from a career break after they have had a child/children.
This subject is just as important as the one I have already covered. There might be a different scenario, and women might be at different stages of their journey; therefore, the challenges will be different for each group.
I divided all the women on maternity leave into three groups:
The first group of employees on maternity leave are mothers who are on maternity leave and gave birth before the lockdown started in the UK. These women are now at home with their newborn baby and still have some time left before their maternity leave time is up.
The second group of women are those who started maternity leave just before lockdown or will be starting their career break in the coming weeks.
The last group of women I want to write about is a group of mothers who are about to return to the workplace after their maternity leave has ended or is about to end.
Please note that, depending on the length of the lockdown and how things will turn out, the two first groups of mothers will, subsequently, become the third one.
Each of these groups experiences different worries and will be faced with different challenges when adapting to the current situation.
The first group of mothers can probably be considered the most “fortunate” in that they have had their baby before the lockdown. They will have received the ‘usual’ maternity care from the NHS, their family and friends have met the baby and, they might have had a baby shower on the last day at the office. Currently, they are missing out on activities with other mums, which would help them and would also be crucial for the baby’s development. They might have sleepless nights due to the uncertainty of the situation, as opposed to just getting up to feed the baby at night.
Mothers who started maternity leave during the lockdown won’t have had a baby shower; they probably didn’t get a ‘Good luck’ card from their colleagues. Also, they might be sidelined without this rite of passage which is an essential milestone in a women’s career and life.
These women are experiencing anxiety as to what will happen to their desk., will they still have a job once they return from maternity leave? They will be checking their emails, waiting for the updates. On top of the usual new baby worries along with not being able to see their midwife, they are also not able to see their families. This accumulates into a huge amount of stress when they should be enjoying their new role and those precious early weeks with their newborn baby.
These people will experience some of the usual challenges of pregnant women as well as some additional issues, like not being able to introduce their baby to their families and friends.
There is also likely to be an impact on the generation born during COVID-19.
A lack of stimulation from seeing other adults other than just their primary care providers, attending first baby massage classes, etc may well scar the children, and we need to be mindful of this too.
There will be confusion about maternity care as every trust has a different approach, and there is no single piece of government advice on how to approach maternity care.
Home visits are very limited; there is no one checking on new mothers in person, sitting with them and seeing how they are doing, and, so, many new mothers are ‘winging it’. They can’t hand over the baby to a friend so that they can have a shower, no one to make a cup of tea when they are breastfeeding or take the baby for a walk around the block while they nap after a sleepless night.
The last group of new mothers are the ones who have returned to work from maternity leave or are about to return.
Depending on the length of their maternity leave, they might have had a reasonable amount of time with their baby before the lockdown or part of their time in lockdown. Now there’s no telling what will happen, depending on the lockdown and return to work guidelines.
Mothers who come back to work during the lockdown are now facing a challenging task: they have a small child at home as nurseries and childminders are closed, and they find themselves working from home, often when their partner also works from home.
Trying to figure out how to manage calls, video meetings and emails while looking after their baby adds a new level of anxiety to the normal challenges many new mothers face when returning to work from a career break.
The biggest worries of this group are:
‘What do I do when my manager calls and I am in the middle of putting my child for a nap?’
Keeping baby out of the team calls (a mother who is seen on the video call with a baby may face accusations of incompetence).
They are not available/contactable during regular working hours.
They won’t be delivering work on time.
Working late into the night to keep up with the work and being worried they will be not considered capable.
They are worried they might not have a position to go back to.
Companies have a responsibility and duty of care to all three of these groups and all of the challenges can be addressed – and some problems prevented – by:
- Improved one to one communication,
- Providing flexibility and child-friendly working hours i.e. calls outside of lunchtime,
- Bringing the human factor and empathy into the workplace,
- Support in the form of coaching to help with the transition and to provide support.
I can understand why you may be asking yourself why you should be doing this
The answers are straightforward.:
You want to avoid:
The cost of recruiting a new team member ( which is, I am told by recruiters, three times the yearly salary of the particular employee)
Discrimination cases in employment tribunals,
Because companies which care for their employees have higher productivity rates.
A caring culture improves not just wellbeing but also client satisfaction, as we say, happy mother, happy baby, and, similarly, we can say but ‘happy employee happy client’.
If you are looking to improve communication with your pregnant employees, then go ahead and book a 90 min call that will assist you in supporting the wellbeing of your team and help you retain female talent.
The cost of the call is £750 and you can book it here.