Case Study: Lawyer Headhunted On Maternity Leave

career development d&i strategies managing working parents maternity leave pregnancy return to work smart and flexible working May 28, 2019

When a driven, ambitious lawyer announces that she is having a baby, her employer has some key decisions to make to ensure a smooth departure and return. In this case, one employer’s loss was another’s gain…  

Although happy to share her story, this lawyer wanted to remain anonymous so we’ll call her Julia. When Julia announced she was pregnant at her law firm, all was well. She was treated fairly, adjustments were made, and it was easy for her to attend all the necessary antenatal appointments during her working hours without any resentment or sideways glances.

The problems came during the handling of her workload. After years with the firm building up a client base on full time hours, Julia was surprised to learn that her employer intended for her line manager to take on all the extra work alone while she was away. This caused a great deal of stress for everyone involved and made the time leading up to her maternity leave very tense.

Shortly after announcing that she was pregnant, Julia finally achieved the qualification she had been working towards for 7 years. She had been led to expect her job role to change and her salary to increase upon presenting the certificate to her employer, but this didn’t happen. After all her hard work, it was a huge disappointment not to have it recognised.

So when another law firm approached Julia during her maternity leave and asked for a meeting, you can guess what happened…

Julia’s Story

Julia worked in a legal firm as a Chartered Legal Executive in the Residential Property Department. She worked four days a week prior to maternity and had her own clients and caseload.

How did it go when you told your employer you were expecting?

My employer was very good when I told them I was expecting my second baby. I told my HR Department and Head of Department I was pregnant when I was 12 weeks and my line manager at around 18 weeks.  My HR department arranged a risk assessment for me. I suffered with back pain in early pregnancy and a physiotherapist recommended not to have long periods sitting. My employers were very quick at arranging a standing up desk for me. I had the normal antenatal appointments which they were happy for me to attend during work time. Towards the end of the pregnancy I suffered some complications that required additional appointments, which again my employer was very supportive about.

With regards to my workload, they were very short sighted in thinking that my line manager could take on my clients and workload along with my own which partly lead to me not returning to work at the firm. I stopped taking any new clients about 6-8 weeks before I was due for maternity and I spent the rest of the time assisting my line manager whilst I finished and closed ongoing cases. Before I left, I prepared detailed notes on each matter to cover all bases.

I received confirmation of my qualification I had been working toward for 7 years a few weeks before I was due to go on maternity.  Upon presenting this to my employers, I expected my official job role to change and salary to reflect this. However it wasn't, and I feel this was partly due to the fact that I was shortly to leave on maternity.

What happened during your maternity leave?

Approximately 4 weeks after the birth of my daughter, I received an email from the director of another law firm asking if I would like to meet for coffee. This came about after an ex-colleague of mine put a good word in for me, knowing the problems I had been having with my current employer. The director was aware that I had recently had a baby so we arranged an informal meeting in a coffee shop the following week.

I was asked when I was hoping to return to work and whether I would return earlier for the right job. I said I would. I was asked what hours/how many days I would like to do and we came to an arrangement that would allow me to work two days a week initially, when my daughter was 5 months old, increase to 3 days when she was 8 months old, and then increase to 4 days when she was 11 months old. There was also the option to work from home, not on a regular basis but if I needed to for reasons relating to my children. I would not want to work from home regularly but having this flexibility was really helpful. I made it clear that my children were my priority as much as I love my career and this was met with respect and appreciation.

I also have an older son who is due to start school in September 2019. I said during my informal chat  that I would like to be able to drop him to school and pick him up at least twice a week, and I was told that my hours would be flexible and there was no issue with this.  As long as I did the hours I was contracted to do she did not mind when they were. I know this would not have been an option in my old firm so this was very attractive. My new employer appeared to be very flexible and accommodating.

Another factor for my early return to work was financial.  Since having my son, we have moved house and our outgoings are much higher.  I do not think we would have been able to afford for me to be on maternity pay for the length of time I was when I had my son.  The firm I worked for then only paid statutory maternity pay too.

I told my current employer that I would not be returning to them, and I had an exit interview in which set out clearly all of my reasons for leaving.

What was it like returning to work at the new firm?

My return to work was great! I loved getting back into work, turning off mummy brain and getting back my working professional brain! My daughter was only 5 months, and my mum and husband's parents were looking after her. I do not think I would have returned to work so early if she was going into a nursery. As I mentioned, I started doing two days a week which I found was a great balance to begin with. However my workload quickly increased, which meant I ideally needed to be in the office more. I found myself working through lunch breaks and working late, but this was my choice and not expected of me.

The biggest challenges for me were:

1) the guilt of leaving such a tiny baby when my son had me at home for 9 months

2) getting everything done at home - cooking, cleaning, mountains of washing!

3) getting enough quality time with both my children

4) two days a week did not give me much time in the office to get the work done and keep clients happy

Would you say that your career goals and aspirations altered since becoming a mother?

My career goals have not changed. I had my son after I had finished my exams but was still training towards my final qualification. It has become clear that as much as I love my job, my family are massively important and I found with my son that working four days gave me a good work life balance. This may change now that I have two children, but I know that I will always want to work.

How do you balance work and home life?

Balancing work and home life is always difficult.  You have to enjoy your job and going to work. If you don't, it is even harder to leave your babies and as I have discovered it can really pay to change your job. If you are not looking forward to returning to work after maternity, look at the reasons why and whether your current employer can assist by offering more flexible working hours, working from home etc. If not, don't be scared to find a new job that suits you and your family. I always knew I would be a working mother and this means I have to ensure the time I am with my children is quality time and that we have fun together.

We work with forward thinking organisations and their employees to better understand and proactively manage the impact of parenthood, focusing on the key transitional periods: pre-, during and post- maternity and paternity. By combining our e-learning platform, Thrive Online, with practical master-classes, group and individual coaching, we ensure working parents, line managers and HR has access to our knowledge and expertise.  Please email us at [email protected] to learn more.

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