Yes – I did!
There’s no doubt that mothers and fathers have mixed emotions when returning to work after a period of maternity, paternity or shared parental leave.
For me – I felt guilty and my guilt started earlier before I was due to return to work. Despite being an employment lawyer, well versed in my rights, I felt almost apologetic when advising my then employer about being pregnant. The business did not make me feel like that, it was just one of the many emotions I had at the time.
When I broke the news of my first pregnancy, I was two years qualified and with my second, I was waiting to hear the outcome of whether I was to be promoted (which I was!) but during that exciting time, I felt guilty and slightly unsettled.
I had to consider how long I was going to take off on maternity leave and whether or not I was going to request to come back to a varied, more family-friendly working pattern. Again, guilt guilt guilt!! I had a great manager at the time, who had not long entered the world of parenthood – so he got it. Unfortunately, not all employees have that experience and many face conversations that shouldn’t be so challenging.
Many parents can feel guilty about returning to work – whether that’s because they feel it’s too soon, too late or because they’ve even chosen to return at all. Leaving your child with a carer is not always easy and re-entering the workplace after a significant period of time off has its own challenges. Getting back up to speed on what’s going on can be a daunting task – but ‘keep in touch’ days can sometimes help bridge the gap.
Luckily, it all worked for me and continues to do so – but it didn’t take away the internal battle that many of us have during that time and continue to have when juggling a work/life/family balance. For example, children get sick and then, all they want are their parents (who wouldn’t) so you may need to ask for a day off or to work from home; work can require you to work longer, unscheduled hours and not all parents have a support network to help with last minute emergencies. There is also the fact that children have many important milestones that you don’t want to miss (first day of school, schools sports day, first day of high school etc.) – so how do we fit it all in and not let anyone down – well, personal and family network aside, I’d say a supportive employer!
What should be done?
Firstly, it’s important for businesses to acknowledge and tackle these issues head on. With many employers striving to be an “employer of choice” how they treat parents (or anyone with caring responsibilities) in terms of value, leave and pay will be considered as part of an overall assessment of any place of work. So, have you got the right support network, flexibility and awareness of the issues that face parents returning to work? How do you deal with emergency leave, flexible working requests and any form of parental leave? Do you support a seamless return to work – if not, start there.
We’re all aware of the gender pay gap and the recent reporting has shown us that:
- Fewer than one in seven companies pay women more than men
- Men make up the majority of higher-paid jobs
- Men are paid higher bonuses than women
- There’s no sector that pays women more than men
Women usually take the longer career break when becoming a parent and the recent gender pay reports support the findings that taking prolonged periods of leave to look after children has more of an impact on women’s career progression and pay than men’s. Are men and women paid equally for carrying out the same or like work in your business – if not, why?
What do I think?
In summary, we’re a long way from the Scandinavian models that encourage time away from work, which foster and promote an equalising culture among parents to enjoy and take on the responsibility of being a new parent.
Employers need to do more to encourage mothers and fathers to take time off for maternity, paternity and/or shared parental leave. Until that becomes the norm, then an actual or perceived stigma will continue to exist when fathers request to take shared parental leave and/or take off more than the statutory two week paternity leave currently offered. Shared parental leave is almost predicated on the mother giving up or being deprived of her own leave before any additional leave can be granted to the father – again, is this approach worth reviewing in some way?
We’re not there yet and I don’t see the “latte papa” movement here in the UK – though I’m hoping it will come soon!