Over recent months, we’ve witnessed a powerful celebration of female strength from working mothers and throughout the working world. In addition to the high profile #MeToo media campaign and issues raised by the gender pay gap, we’ve marked International Women’s day, which was closely followed by Mother’s day. Support for female empowerment has never been so strong, particularly for women in the workplace.

Whilst there are several articles and blog posts published in support of working mothers, there is little guidance for UK employers on supporting mothers in the workplace. Read on for our helpful guide.

 

Wrestling with working mothers’ guilt

Working mother holding babyIn 2017, the UK Office for National Statistics published figures showing there were 4.9 million mothers with dependent children in work, up from 3.7 million in 1996.

No matter how strong their character, every working mother experiences a nagging guilt about the time they spend away from their family. It’s entirely normal to find it difficult to adapt to being back at work. The holy grail of work life balance is not easy to achieve.

Unfortunately there is no cure for working mothers’ guilt. However, employers have the power to make life easier for women who want to return to the workplace and continue their career after starting a family.

 

What can employers do to support mothers in the workplace?

Be clear about parental leave and shared parental leave

Parental leave covers maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Couples with babies due and those with children waiting for adoption can take shared leave of up to 50 weeks. Parents can share up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Ensure your policy is up to date and that expectant parents are aware of their individual rights. Talk to us if you need guidance in this area.

Know your responsibilities around flexible working

All employees with at least 26 weeks continuous service have a statutory right to request flexible working arrangements. It’s important to have a clear and fair employment policy on flexible working. This way you can help employees dealing with the pressure of new motherhood by offering them flexible working hours.

Flexible working can entail:

  • A reduction in the number of hours worked
  • A change to working hours (e.g. start earlier, finish later)
  • Working some hours from home

UK employment law states that employees with children up to the age of 17 (18 if the child is disabled) or those with certain adult caring responsibilities are eligible for flexible working. For more advice on flexible working, take a look at our guidance on managing flexible working requests.

It’s important to note that not all mothers will ask for flexible working arrangements on their return to work. A request could come further down the line, perhaps if the mother struggles to manage her multiple responsibilities, or if there’s been a change in childcare arrangements.

 

Listen. Show empathy and understanding.

Working mother with childrenThis may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but in our experience not all line managers receive adequate training in this area. If you’re not a parent yourself, or have little line management experience, it can be more difficult to understand the challenges that come with having a family. Training can embed a more empathetic approach and help to dispel myths around managing working mothers (e.g. that a mother is a disruptive employee because she has a family).

Would all line managers in your business know how to handle a request for time off for parents evening or to attend a school play? What about if a child falls ill during the working day? Robust employment policies provide guidance but sometimes a bit of common sense and flexibility is all that’s required. Again, training can be a huge support.

By offering flexible working you allow employees to become more effective in their role, enabling them to achieve balance and happiness at work and as a parent.

If you would like specific advice on flexible working, parental leave, or maternity and paternity leave, we can help with training, tailored employment policies and commercially focused advice. Please contact us for an initial no-obligation chat.

Our advice to working mothers

If you’re a working mother and recognise the aforementioned feelings of guilt, try to focus instead on the positive example you’re setting your child by going to work. You’re a role model for a strong work ethic, independence, and dedication to your chosen career. Remember the reasons why you work – to provide for your family, to gain a sense of achievement, or just retain a little bit of sanity!