People Management : Women in Transition - Returning to Work after Maternity Leave; New Zealand Research by Executive Coaching Company Altris Shows Childcare and Work-Life Balance Are the Biggest Concerns for Women Returning to the Workforce after Maternity Leave. Ellen Read Talks to Four Women as They Share Their Stories and Offer Advice

New Zealand Management, September 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

People Management : Women in Transition - Returning to Work after Maternity Leave; New Zealand Research by Executive Coaching Company Altris Shows Childcare and Work-Life Balance Are the Biggest Concerns for Women Returning to the Workforce after Maternity Leave. Ellen Read Talks to Four Women as They Share Their Stories and Offer Advice


Byline: Ellen Read

New Zealand's tight labour market means many organisations are struggling not only for new talent but also to retain the staff they have. One worrying area of attrition is women leaving the workforce to have children and not returning. But research from Auckland-based executive coaching company Altris shows there are many ways firms can overcome this - to both their, and the woman's, advantage.

Women make up 46.9 percent of the New Zealand workforce and 85 percent of paid working women have children. In order to work out what support should be offered to help women either embarking on maternity leave or wanting to return to work after leave, Altris carried out research to see:

* What are transitioning women's concerns and what support is currently provided to them?

* What lessons can be learned from those who have transitioned well (or not)?

* What can New Zealand business learn and do to assist?

Respondents' main concerns were around childcare arrangements (nanny or daycare; where; how much will it cost etc); impact on work-life balance (How will I integrate my baby into my life and work?); and being able to manage the workload (I won't be able to stay on for an extra hour or for a late meeting if I need to pick up my baby from childcare. What impact will this have on my ability to do what needs to be done at work?).

The main form of support mentioned was flexible working arrangements (eg, part-time working; starting later and/or finishing earlier etc). One fifth of respondents felt they had been offered no support by their organisations - but it is unclear if this was because of a lack of awareness of what was provided, rather than no support actually being available (perception versus reality). Regular communications, early appointment of a replacement and a planned handover period were among other types of support mentioned.

Before women left an organisation on maternity leave, the main areas that would have helped them plan for the time away were: a structured transition plan; information about parental leave; having a replacement appointed and sufficient time to hand over to them.

While away from the organisation the focus shifted to a desire for regular communication with the organisation about changes and updates.

A structured transition plan to assist in return to the workforce was also identified as important, as was the handover from the replacement who had been carrying out the role. Access to an independent confidante (eg, internal or external coach) and a 'buddy' (a woman who has recently returned to the organisation after having a child) were also identified as likely to be of help.

Responses were received from over 170 women across a number of industries - fast moving consumer goods; legal; retail; university; and financial services. Forty-six percent were managers, 54 percent employees.

Bell Gully business development manager Karen Chan is planning to leave work soon and take 12 months maternity leave (since this interview took place, she has had her son).

"When I told them I was pregnant I proposed a transition plan. I had done a lot of reading into what works best and discovered that returning part-time or with flexible hours was a lot better for both mother and child. My husband encouraged me to look into what would work best for women and children and that's when I found it felt better to be organised and proactive about the whole thing. So I proposed a plan which had 12 months off my normal role, but saw me coming back after six months to do project work. That would be a morning or two a week, we're being flexible on that. What I proposed feels like a good way to transition back - just to let me and my child get used to things.

"I've had a very supportive manager. He's a new father himself and I think that has helped. …

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People Management : Women in Transition - Returning to Work after Maternity Leave; New Zealand Research by Executive Coaching Company Altris Shows Childcare and Work-Life Balance Are the Biggest Concerns for Women Returning to the Workforce after Maternity Leave. Ellen Read Talks to Four Women as They Share Their Stories and Offer Advice
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