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Article

Incentivizing the Return to the Office after Childbirth

motherhood penaltyBy Kate McClaskey (New York City)

Being family friendly means more than just offering services to new parents. It means taking investment steps towards providing financial incentives for new parents to return to work – and stay there.

According to the May 2004 Current Population Survey, 27.5 percent of wage and salary workers had flexible work schedules. Too many companies do not realize the benefits of having such an option. A recent study from the Cranfield School of Management in the United Kingdom found that employees with flexible schedules tend to work more intensely and have higher job satisfaction than their coworkers with more rigid hours. Those with more flexible hours also had lower stress levels and greater company loyalty.

The average unpaid maternity and paternity leave in the United States is anywhere from eight to 12 weeks. Comparatively, Swedish mothers and fathers can receive 76 weeks between them, and in the UK mothers can receive 39 weeks paid leave and fathers can receive four weeks paid leave. This is important because according to a study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, mothers with more paid time off tend to have less health risks than mothers who don’t.

While smaller companies may not be able to afford to establish and administer family friendly policies, larger ones should realize that the benefits of adopting such practices can outweigh the costs because they can potentially reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, improve employee health and increase productivity.

An ever-increasing number of companies are finding that new moms and dads are demanding more such as longer maternity/paternity leave and flexibility after having or adopting a new child. As the corporate world changes, so does the importance of a family friendly work place. It takes more than just more time to keep moms and dads engaged and content in their new role as employee and parent.

Small Perks Can Make a Big Difference for New Parents

Companies should also be willing to offer the opportunity to work less than full-time, to telecommute and to job-share – all without the fear of jeopardizing an employee’s career advancement. A vast number of jobs today can be done at home. Managers and employees should discuss the specific terms of allowing work to be done outside the office.

Companies should think about their childcare options for parents, either on-site or off. Productivity can be improved if parents are not continuously worried about their children. For example, California-based Cisco Systems offers on-site day care centers with cameras in their facilities so that employees can check up on their children from their desktop computers. This is a good example of what is possible for parents and employers.

If you do have on-site childcare, do you allow employees to visit their children throughout the day? Will you let them have lunch with their children? Being prepared for every alternative can help increase a company’s family friendly environment even if they do not have the facilities offered by larger corporations.

Companies that do not have childcare centers or cannot afford them should provide employees with a list of recommended locations. This can further reduce the stress of parents having to do the research themselves if companies already have a good relationship with nearby centers.

A prominent stress and concern for new mothers is lactation. This past March, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which stipulates that an employer with more than 50 workers or who makes over 500 thousand a year must provide a room, not a bathroom, in which female employees can express breast milk. Currently, only 24 states have laws related to women breastfeeding in the workplace. Providing a safe, private place for new mothers to express milk can create a positive open environment in which parents should feel welcome.

And providing emotional support should be key to being a family friendly company. Some companies such as ComPsych offer counseling to mothers from the time they announce their pregnancy until they return to work. This can help new parents deal with the pressures that having a new child can create and provide comfort to the employee as they transition back into the work force.

While smaller companies may not be able to afford to establish and administer family friendly policies, larger ones should realize that the benefits of adopting such practices can outweigh the costs because they can potentially reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, improve employee health and increase productivity.

In the end, companies should strive to make the transition into parenthood as easy as possible for their employees. This includes creating an environment that accepts the different type of work that arises when a child is born. The thing companies need to remember is that new moms and dads do not want to give up their aspirations, they want employers who are willing to accept them as employees and parents.