Workplace Wellbeing

How to Be an Ally for Women Returning From Maternity Leave

Written by
photo authr
Kris Kopac
Clinically reviewed by
photo authr
A new mother in an orange shirt holding her newborn baby

Jump to section

    There are no two ways about it: having a baby is a big life transition.

    As an HR leader or employer, offering reasonable accommodations will ensure that your employees have the tools they need to succeed after welcoming a new family member.

    Supporting new parents benefits all parties involved. In fact, mothers who don't use paid parental leave have a 34% chance of quitting their job. Comparatively, mothers who use paid leave have only a 2.6% probability of quitting their job. 

    In other words, offering and encouraging the use of paid parental leave will translate into higher retention rates for your company.

    So, how can you support returning women and retain talented employees? Here are a few steps every company should take.

    Offer a quality amount of paid time off first

    The United States is the only industrialized country not to guarantee paid family leave.

    What's more, lower income hourly wage earners are the least likely to have any paid parental leave time. Only 8% of wage earners who make $14 an hour or less had access to paid family leave in 2020.

    There are many reasons for employers to offer this time off. Here are two of the biggest reasons. 

    Neglecting to support parental leave negatively impacts business outcomes

    Mothers who don't use paid leave are much more likely to quit their job and not return. In fact, first-time mothers who use paid leave have a 92% likelihood of staying with their employers afterward, which drops by nearly 20% without using paid leave.

    PMAD impacts long-term health outcomes 

    Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) are common among new birth-giving parents. Not offering the time or resources to recover from childbirth and the adjustment of a new baby could exacerbate these symptoms, and ultimately create the conditions for a chronic illness. 

    One study found that 20% of birth-giving parents experience depression or anxiety after having a baby, and 38% of birth-giving parents experience postpartum depression.

    Companies have the opportunity to get creative and support new parents in a way that also supports long-term goals. Offering a fair PTO package gives parents time to adjust and makes it far more likely that they will stay when they return.

    How much time off should I offer?

    Case studies have shown that when employers extended paid leave from 8 weeks to 12 weeks, attrition among young mothers dropped by 50%.

    While every company is different, offering 16 weeks PTO for the non-birth giving parent and 18 weeks for the birth-giving parent have shown to support optimal mental health of the parents and significantly reduce turnover. 

    Even if your company struggles to offer that much time, striving toward this larger goal will help new parents feel welcome and make you a more competitive employer.

    Offer flexible and predictable work schedules

    Once a parent has returned to work, they face a completely new set of challenges. Nearly 20% of working parents have to leave work or reduce their work hours solely due to lack of child care.

    Businesses benefit from a schedule that allows parents to:

    • Drop off/pick up their children from daycare or school
    • Take care of sick children
    • Participate in after-school activities
    • Respond to unexpected events

    To respond to these challenges, businesses should offer flexible and predictable work schedules. This results in: 

    • Higher performance. Unpredictable work schedule changes are associated with worse outcomes for parents, including increased negative mood and decreased perceived sleep quality. Offering a predictable schedule will ensure your employees are better rested, positive, and prepared for the day.
    • Better recruiting and retention incentives94% of surveyed employees feel that a flexible work schedule would allow them to be better parents. Respecting your employee's time and obligations outside of work is a great way to attract and retain the best talent out there.

    Giving advance notice for schedule changes is one of many ways to support new parents, especially if your employees don't have a traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

    Offer a private lactation room

    The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide basic accommodations for breast-feeding parents at work. While a private space with a table and chair are the bare minimum requirements, your company can design a better space to help new mothers feel welcome.

    Quality lactation rooms may include the following:

    • A tabletop, chair, sink, microwave, and refrigerator
    • Working surface <24 inches deep
    • A supportive and adjustable task chair with casters
    • Electrical outlets for a pump and laptop

    Offering these amenities will give a functional space to welcome parents and help retain current employees. Decorating the area is an added way to make your employees feel especially valued during this life transition.

    Think twice about the importance of after-work events

    While some environments require work or networking after normal business hours, consider which events are actually necessary for employees to succeed.

    Many parents benefit from a lack of pressure around attending team bonding or social events outside of normal work hours. This gives them time to attend to family commitments and relieves increased anxiety and pressure around job performance.

    If an employee's role does require attending after-work events, be sure to give enough notice so parents are able to schedule childcare ahead of time.

    It’s a win-win scenario

    Creating a welcoming environment for new parents is a win-win situation. It encourages your employees to perform better, and they're more likely to remain loyal for the long-haul.

    While your company might not be able to offer everything on the list right away, taking a step toward family-friendly policies is a net positive for everyone in your organization. New parents will appreciate the effort, and your company will retain more talent, reduce the cost of turnover, and create a happier workplace for all.

    Part of successfully building this supportive environment is understanding perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), which are the most common childbirth-related complication in the U.S. One in five mothers experience a PMAD and one in ten fathers face similar mental health challenges in the postpartum period.

    Learn how to recognize the signs of PMADs and reduce the stigma that keeps so many from seeking help.

    About the Author
    photo authr
    Kris Kopac

    Kris is a writer and marketer based in Chicago. Kris specializes in subjects around HR, recruiting, and employee happiness.

    About the clinical reviewer
    photo authr

    Stay connected to the latest in mental health!

    Our newsletter delivers expert insights, personal stories, and practical strategies straight to your inbox. Join us to better support your team’s mental health.