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HR Connection blog

The Importance of "Momboarding"

Posted by Karina Schultheis | Mar 10, 2021 9:30:00 AM

For most women, returning to work after maternity leave is, at the very least, complicated. No matter how much they love their jobs, their bosses, and their colleagues, and no matter how eager they are to return to the professional world, many new mothers feel conflicted about transitioning back to the workplace (and away from being with their new children constantly).

Many companies, too, face challenges during this turbulent period, as they struggle to support and retain their people. A study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that "one in five women quit their job before or shortly after the birth of their child in 2006 - 2008."1 But it doesn't have to be this challenging for women to balance motherhood and their careers.

There are clear ways that companies can support new moms as they return to work after maternity leave. "Accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all employed women," working mothers are a significant employee population.2 Learning to support and retain them is good for them, good for their companies, good for business, and good for the economy.

Paid Maternity Leave: Crucial - But Insufficient

Among the 193 members countries of the United Nations, only eight do not mandate paid parental leave - and the USA is one of them.3 Fortunately, more and more private companies are recognizing the importance of paid family leave and stepping in where public policy fails. As of 2018, "more than one in three U.S. employers offers paid maternity leave beyond the amount required by law," and many even extend time-off benefits to fathers, who've traditionally been neglected in the parental leave conversation.4

By offering paid parental leave, employers signal that they care. It's a coveted benefit that certainly helps both attract and retain talent. Still, twelve weeks is just a blip of time in an employee's (hopefully) long tenure at their company. Their circumstances and needs as parents will change over time, and although offering a competitive parental leave package is important, companies can and should do more.

Enter "Momboarding"

"Onboarding matters" is the universal refrain these days. Everyone understands the importance of welcoming new hires, ensuring that their technology needs are met, and using plenty of communication and feedback to ease them into their responsibilities. It's an established fact that a well-designed onboarding process contributes to long-term employee success, engagement, and satisfaction. The next step is for organizations to broaden their onboarding programs to include welcoming back new parents.

The need for such programs is clear. For example, in a survey of over 1,000 working mothers who had recently returned from maternity leave, about 90 percent of the mid-to-senior-level respondents said their organizations offered no "returner program, one to one coaching, or group coaching," and about one third felt "unsupported and isolated or wanting to leave due to [their] experience."5 (What's especially shocking about this survey is that it was conducted in the UK with women who received nearly an entire year of paid maternity leave!) Clearly, organizations that want to support and retain their employees need to offer more than just generous paid time off.

Fortunately, implementing "momboarding" processes results in a win for everyone involved. Such programs help mitigate the stress new parents face and simultaneously increase retention, engagement, and loyalty. Companies should consider incorporating the following simple (and no-cost) best practices into their current return-to-work and momboarding procedures.

Plan ahead

Great momboarding begins before offboarding. During the last few months leading up to planned parental leave, managers and employees should define who will be taking over which projects, put process documents in place to ensure seamless transitions, and discuss return-to-work plans (with the understanding that these plans may change once the baby arrives). As part of these conversations, managers should ask whether employees would like to be kept abreast of important organizational changes, and if so, what is their desired method of communication. This can help employees feel connected and remembered in their absence, without any pressure for them to check in (or to check e-mail).

Be welcoming

An actual party isn't necessary, but taking the time to welcome back returning employees can ease their transition. It's important not to overwhelm them on their first day back, but just as it's a best practice to give new hires time and space to meet their teammates, companies should give their returning employees casual, stress-free opportunities to catch up with their colleagues. Time for a returning employee and their manager to touch base with each other can set the stage for open communication about any new concerns or considerations related to the employee's new parent status (such as ensuring that a new mother has time to pump or evaluating potential scheduling changes).

Be flexible

If there's a silver lining to COVID-19, it's that companies now have more trust and willingness to let people work when and how they work best. Many managers and companies that had been firmly opposed to working from home have seen record productivity with newly remote teams during the pandemic. The challenges of working strict 9-to-5 days without schools or daycare centers helped managers realize that just because work doesn't get done during typical hours, that doesn't mean it doesn't get done. Savvy business leaders are increasingly adopting the perspective described by Aron Ain, the CEO of UKG: "I trust [employees] to get their work done. I'm more concerned about what they do instead of where they do it or when they do it."6

As a nation, the USA seems to have finally learned that flexibility at work is both acceptable and desirable. One might argue that this sentiment is especially true when it comes to new mothers and momboarding. Babies get sick (a lot). Pumping is time-consuming, exhausting, and absolutely necessary for breastfeeding mothers (not to mention a legally protected right). There are medical appointments, school activities, daycare closing times, and many other parenting-related factors to consider. By staying flexible and working with employees to help determine which (if any) expectations need to change, companies can foster mutual trust, strengthen the employee–employer relationship, and hedge against losing top talent.

Create a "while-you-were-gone" resource

Think about how much energy goes into welcoming and fully acclimating new hires. Building trust and complicity takes time, and even when managers have strong existing relationships with returning employees, the fact remains that those employees' lives have changed dramatically since they left. They are, in many ways, new people, with new needs. Even after the official "momboarding" phase ends, these employees' needs and interests as parents will continue to evolve - and organizations should continue to address them.

An Ongoing Process

Think about how much energy goes into welcoming and fully acclimating new hires. Building trust and complicity takes time, and even when managers have strong existing relationships with returning employees, the fact remains that those employees' lives have changed dramatically since they left. They are, in many ways, new people, with new needs. Even after the official "momboarding" phase ends, these employees' needs and interests as parents will continue to evolve - and organizations should continue to address them.


Karina Schultheis is the manager of human insights and HCM at UKG, where she leads thought leadership research and content strategy. She can be reached at karina.schultheis@ukg.com.

 

Topics: Retention, Onboarding, HR Department, Mothers

Written by Karina Schultheis

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