How To Make Your Maternity Leave Work For You – Guest Post
As it stands, we are fairly lucky in the UK when it comes to maternity leave. New mums in the UK are entitled to up to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave – something that mothers in the US, who are not guaranteed any paid maternity leave at all, can only dream of. But as generous as our maternity package might seem when we compare it with other countries worldwide, unfortunately as many as 1 in 5 new mums in the UK feel they were discriminated against in the workplace whilst pregnant, or when coming back to work after maternity leave by colleagues and managers. And whilst most new mums are clued up on their basic legal rights, there are tactical ways that you can ensure that you get the most out of your maternity leave, and make it work for you.
- Be tactical when announcing your pregnancy
Legally, you don’t have to tell your employer that you are pregnant until the 15th week before your baby is due. Whilst most new mums opt to tell their employer after the 3 month mark, you should also consider your professional situation when sharing the happy news. Telling your manger too early could mean you are passed over for a big promotion. And if you know you have a big project that is due to finish, or an annual appraisal where you are likely to discuss the prospect of promotion, you are completely within your rights to wait until afterwards to share the news.
If you are promoted, your employer cannot take back the offer because you are pregnant. Similarly, you should try to avoid putting yourself forward for extra projects or big commitments at work when you know you will be on maternity leave. Whilst you might be keen to show your employer that you are enthusiastic about the job and a hard worker, this is likely to annoy them and make them feel like you wasted their time when you do share the news.
As a busy new mum, the office is probably the last thing you want to think about. But if you are serious about returning to your old job, then keeping in touch with the office will make it much easier for you when you do return. If possible, it is worth being involved in the hiring process to find your temporary replacement. Ideally your position will be filled by someone highly competent who you can build a good rapport with during the handover period. That way you can trust that your job is being left in capable hands, and you can be kept in the loop about any key updates whilst you are away.
It’s also worth remembering that you are entitled to work up to 10 days during your maternity leave. These ‘KIT’ days need to be agreed with your employer, but you will enable you to keep up to date with key projects and make returning to work seem much less daunting. However, it’s also wise to keep your distance from the day to day of the office – after all you need this time to bond with your new baby and adjust to your new routine. The last thing you want is to become a nuisance to your colleagues!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for flexible working
With the rising cost of childcare squeezing household budgets to breaking point, you might find that you would be better off financially by working part time, or flexible hours. You should know that you are completely within your rights to ask if this might be possible, but bear in mind that you should send a formal request before you return to the office. Whilst your employer is well within their rights to turn you down, they should be able to give you an acceptable reason as to why they have refused. As a short term solution when you first return to work, you can save all of your holiday allowance until the end of your maternity leave, and use 1 or 2 days a week until your holiday runs out.
Unfortunately, sometimes new mums find themselves the victims of workplace discrimination whilst on maternity leave or when returning to work. They might find that they are unlawfully made redundant whilst on leave, or return to a job where they are made to feel side-lined and indirectly coerced out of the job. It’s heart-breaking that for many women, the birth of a new baby can be blighted by anxiety and stress caused by this discrimination. Whilst a lengthy legal battle with your employer might not be very high on your list of priorities, it’s important that you stand up for your rights. You may be entitled to compensation, so it’s worth speaking to settlement agreement solicitors if you feel you have been dismissed unfairly or suffered discrimination. At the very least, a pay-out will allow you to make ends meet whilst you look for new work, and there is a chance that your former employer might learn a valuable lesson and stop this from happening again.
- Use the time to re-assess your career
Having a baby is a life-changing event to say the very least. At the beginning of your maternity leave, it might feel like you have all the time in the world before you need to return to work. But any new mum will know that with new routines, and sleepless nights, the time passes in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you are digging out your old work clothes and trying to figure out how you can do your high-pressure job on 3 hours’ sleep.
The reality is that for many women, having a child changes their priorities, and having a career that will allow you to work around your family becomes a much more attractive option. And if the thought of going back to your old job doesn’t appeal, then you might find it useful to use the time you have off to reassess what is important to you in a job, and plan for the future. There is a reason why teaching and HR jobs are particularly popular among women with families, as they offer attractive flexible working opportunities. Spend some time researching how you might go about changing your career, research training requirements like PGCEs or a CIPD qualification, and come up with a career plan for your future. Having a plan will take some of the pressure off you, and will enable you to really enjoy being at home with your newest family member.
Whilst we still have a long way to go before new mums feel confident that having a baby will not impact their careers, it’s important be tactical when planning your maternity leave. Hopefully these tips will help you to make your maternity leave work for you. After all, it’s your legal right, and there is no shame in using it to your advantage!
This is a Guest Post.