Flexible work key to retaining mums – US study

Women who return to work after giving birth are more likely to stay on the job if they have greater flexibility, according to a US study.

Women who return to work after giving birth are more likely to stay on the job if they have greater flexibility, according to a US study.

Researchers at Baylor University in Texas also found that job security and the ability to make use of a variety of their job skills leads to greater retention of working mums, while the impact of work-related stress on their physical and mental health causes greater turnover.

The study is published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

"Having a flexible schedule is an important element necessary to decrease working mum turnover because it can be used when work demands arise," said the study’s author Professor Dawn S. Carlson.

"When confronted by one or more job demands, a flexible schedule provides working mums with alternatives for meeting those demands while caring for their newborns. When working mums are better able to control their work environment and adapt, work-related stress is less likely to become a family issue," she said.

The researchers surveyed 179 full-time working mothers who worked an average of 39.7 hours per week and planned on returning to work 30 or more hours by four months after the birth. They had six weeks’ maternity leave, but only 48.1 percent reported having paid maternity leave. The study also showed that job security plays an important role in decision-making. When job security is high, workers are able to engage more fully in responsibilities inside and outside the workplace, say the authors.

"Job security heightens motivation and energy, particularly for mothers who are sensitive to the security of their jobs after returning from maternity leave. When working mothers believe that their tenure with an organisation is not at risk, they will have more energy and other resources with which to fully engage and perform both at work and at home," added Merideth J. Ferguson, a co-author of the study.

The authors suggest that employers may be able to promote beneficial outcomes through systematic attempts to increase the use of a working mum’s skills by cross-training her for multiple functions. Mental and physical health play an important role in retaining working mothers and deserve attention, such as through employee assistance programmes, support systems, or more integrative work-life initiatives, Carlson concluded.

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