Keeping in touch days during maternity leave are a relatively new phenomenon, but some companies are using them to retain female staff.
One of the key elements of such programmes is an examination of how motherhood has changed women and how new mothers might envisage combining work and being a mum.
Keeping in touch days are a relatively new addition to maternity leave legislation. Under the Work and Families Act 2006, women are entitled to up to 10 keeping in touch days during their maternity, although they are not permitted to take them within two weeks of giving birth, or four weeks if they work in factories.
These are simply for maintaining contact with the office and not for working. Women who use these KIT days do not forego statutory or other maternity pay and there is no compulsion to use them.
However, women must not use them to do any work. Instead, they can be used for negotiating a return to work and discussing issues around this, for instance.
One of the companies promoting a more innovative approach to KIT days is the bank firm Citi. Its programme, run with HRI-ICAS, a leading provider of employee support, works to help post-baby women confront their dual role as mother and worker.
The programme offers three group coaching sessions before, during and after maternity leave.
Before maternity leave, the group coaching session focuses on issues such as childcare, balancing career and life goals and managing the transition back to work. The second session is held on one KIT day midway through an employee’s maternity leave.
This involves a structured discussion of how their maternity leave is going and how they can reintegrate back into the team. The women draw up an action plan which they discuss with an advisor and they swap experiences and solutions for managing some of the issues involved in going back to work.
The third group session takes place shortly after the woman returns to work and includes issues such as work-life balance, creating practical action plans and finding psychological strategies to cope with juggling a career and a baby.
A Citi spokesperson said: “We aim to help our female employees not have to choose between work and family, but to find a way to have both, if they’d like to. We’re trying to give them the tools, confidence and network to make them feel satisfied and successful in both spheres.”
Alice Jones, co-founder of career development firm A Brave New World, says such initiatives are important, but she believes a much wider form of discussion needs to take place when a woman returns to work, although she adds that the emphasis should not be solely on the difficulties of women juggling work and family life.
Her company was set up to help women back into the workplace after having children.
The company conducted research into what the main barriers for parents going back to work. This research fed into the training programme that they developed which sought to break down those barriers.
One of the problems parents experienced was that they saw flexibility as something that would automatically be given to them. “They need to be aware that flexibility is a two-way street,” says Jones.
“Many women are shocked when we say have you thought about the summer holidays and that it is unreasonable to expect an employer to sustain them taking a long time off.”
She says women need to look carefully at their personal motivations, values and beliefs so they have a deeper understanding of what they want from work and how they have changed since they had children.
The firm asks them to do a skills analysis – to think about the transferable skills they may have acquired while on maternity leave and to look at how their values may have changed and at jobs which mirror those values.
Then they are asked to look at the skills needed to get those jobs. Rather than just applying for the jobs, they are advised to use their existing networks and to talk to people doing the jobs so that they can find out more about them.
“They really have to engage with the job,” says Jones. This process can take weeks or months.
While A Brave New World has worked with women it has also targeted firms and offered them diversity training, including integration training for managers, looking at their values and beliefs – what they feel about the person coming back and how their department feels.
Jones says a lot of City firms say they are very diverse, but “when you look under the skin you see they are very frightened about bringing women back to work because the legislation is so complex and they think flexible working will be hard to monitor”.
She adds that women too often fail to acknowledge the very deep ways that having children have changed them and their career motivations.
“One change is that women lose confidence about going back to work, but they also gain confidence in other ways from the whole experience of childbirth and bringing up children,” says Jones.
“Going back to work also changes things such as family dynamics. The dynamics at work change when a member of the team is working flexible hours.
All these things need to be considered and women need to take control of their career path.”