The addition of a new family member is a happy event, but also a stressful one. After all, there’s a new human to build into your life. And this new human requires a whole different care regimen than the adults and older children in the household.
Then there’s work. The stress of leaving a baby after only a few weeks, coupled with a body that’s still recovering and the high cost of day care can make any new mother’s return to work nerve-wracking.
According to a recent white paper by Maven, 75% of expecting mothers say they’re excited to go back to work after giving birth. But in the end, 43% of them end up leaving their jobs. Why? The struggle to juggle everything may have been too great, they needed more flexibility, or child care was taking most of their paycheck.
Offering support during pregnancy and the transition back to work can help you improve your retention of talented female employees and ensure that they don’t have to choose between having children and working for your company.
A few large companies have increased the amount of maternity leave they offer from the minimum of 12 weeks to 16 weeks and more. But that may be too expensive an option for smaller companies.
What can you do to ease your new-mom employees back to work? The good news is that there are plenty of low-cost and no-cost ways to help support new parents, whether they’ve just had their first baby, adopted a toddler or are fostering an older child.
1. Build a culture of empathy for new parents
Say you’ve built a hard-charging company full of singles and married couples without kids. Your culture may scare off new moms who want to come back to work but need the understanding that frequent overtime is not possible.
A new parent needs empathy from their manager and coworkers. They need to feel like they’re still a valued employee if their return takes longer than expected due to health issues. Or, they may need the flexibility of calling into a meeting rather than attending in person, so they can also take their child to the pediatrician.
Coach your managers to ask, “What can we do to help? What do you need?” Every family situation is different, so don’t assume you know what will help relieve stress. This doesn’t mean you have to accommodate every request. After all, chances are, your receptionist can’t work from home. But, you may be able to transfer her to another job that allows remote work.
2. Plan the before, during and after
A dedicated employee may worry about how their job will be handled during their maternity leave. To relieve that stress, begin planning who will handle their essential tasks and cross-train those employees in advance.
Next, let the expectant employee know that during their leave you’ll call every few weeks to check on them and the baby, but that it’s not intended to be a work call.
Finally, let them know when you’d like to discuss their return to work, and what the transition back to work will look like.
Since babies and childbirth don’t always go according to plan, talk ahead of time about what you’ll both do if she needs more time off in the event of unforeseen health issues with her or her baby.
3. Make your leave policy more flexible
Some companies have fairly inflexible leave policies, such as those that require 24- to 72-hour notice that time off is needed for non-emergency situations. Sometimes that may be necessary to keep the business running.
But new parents are notoriously disorganized as they adjust to this new human in the house. A first-time mother may not have realized, or adequately planned for, all that’s required to get the baby’s immunizations, for example. A more flexible leave policy can provide the peace of mind that she’s not going to get in trouble for not planning her child’s health care schedule well enough in advance if these issues arise occasionally.
4. Consider remote work
Not every job is suitable for remote work, but when possible, consider offering new parents the option of working from home some portion of their week. However, beware of offering remote work options only to new parents or employees you like.
If you offer remote work to one employee, you’ll likely have to offer it for all appropriate positions or in other situations that you may not anticipate. This will require a well-thought-out work-from-home policy, including the stipulation that remote work can’t be a full-time substitute for child care.
5. Consider a transition period
Depending on the baby’s and the employee’s health, some new moms need more time to recover from delivery or the baby may need extra attention or care. Some companies allow new mothers to work part-time for a number of weeks and gradually transition back to full time. Such a transition period can help new parents adjust to all the extra work involved in caring for their child. It can also make it easier for them to schedule the time they need for driving to daycare before and after work.
6. Bring the baby to work
It’s rare, but some companies allow new mothers to bring their baby into the office. Obviously, this arrangement won’t work for some jobs, such as a call center. But if the parent can still get their work done while their baby is in the office, this may be a short-term option.
7. Add onsite health care
Some companies have invested in onsite healthcare facilities so that employees can get routine medical services without leaving company grounds. This can be an especially helpful and time-saving convenience for new parents, particularly if their daycare is close to their workplace.
If you can’t afford a full-blown health center, consider bringing in other time-saving health services such as onsite flu shots, mammograms and family immunizations. Anything that reduces travel time and time off for doctor’s appointments can be a stress reliever for all your employees, not just new parents.
8. Add an EAP program or develop your own resources
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can help new parents find reputable daycare, a pediatrician and community groups that support new moms. They can also recommend personal chefs, errand-running services and other services to help reduce the stress of new parenthood.
If your company doesn’t want to add an EAP service to your benefits program, consider developing your own list of recommended providers.
9. Bring in stress relievers
Consider scheduling a massage therapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist to come to your office. These types of alternative health practitioners offer tried-and-true strategies for stress relief that benefit all employees. But for your new moms, these services can help relieve back pain and the other physical and mental strains associated with childbirth and new parenthood.
It is important, however, that these services be offered as voluntary benefits and that the employees not use work time to seek treatment in order to minimize the risk of on-the-job injuries that may occur.
10. Provide snacks
If your company provides snacks to employees, ask the lactating moms if there are certain foods they prefer that will support healthy breastfeeding. It should be easy enough to adjust or add to your snack selection to accommodate their needs. Nutritious snacks are a great way to help fuel your entire workforce, especially those new to the demands of parenting.
11. Check in during their leave
Some employees begin to feel disconnected from work after being gone for a while. Making a call every couple of weeks to check on them keeps the new mom from feeling forgotten or unneeded.
One thing to note, though: The purpose of check-in calls is to maintain a sense of community, so the call should focus on the employee’s and baby’s well-being. Don’t talk about work on these calls and don’t pressure them to come back to work sooner than planned. Talking about work while an employee is on leave can tread into wage and hour issues.
Ask about the baby and the family, request photos to share around the office, and encourage the parent to bring their baby into the office if they’d like. To preserve her privacy, avoid topics that may elicit too much information about the mother or baby’s medical condition, and if the new mother asks about work, tell her everything is fine and everyone is looking forward to her return.
12. Add a lactation room
Open offices may be great for collaboration, but they’re not so great for breastfeeding mothers. If you’ve got a spare room available, create a space for new mothers to pump breast milk.
All that’s really needed is privacy, a comfortable chair and a small refrigerator for storage. Many companies add the room to their online meeting room calendar so mothers can schedule times discreetly and conveniently.
Some locations, such as California, and, separately, San Francisco, require dedicated lactation rooms be provided. If you are not in such a location, you can still look to those laws to determine what may be helpful if this is something you’d like to pursue.
Want more guidance to help your company maximize its workforce? A professional employer organization (PEO) can help. Download the e-book, HR outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to PEOs, to learn how.