Return To Work: Finding Flexibility As An Emergency NurseJun 24, 2019
This return to work case study is a great example of how crucial flexibility is for retaining new mothers in the workplace. Here we share the story of Louise, an advanced nurse practitioner in a hospital emergency department and mother to a baby boy.
When Louise became pregnant she knew that after having her baby, she would eventually want to return to work in the career she had worked hard over many years to build as an advanced nurse practitioner in a hospital emergency department.
Her story is neither an outright success nor failure on the part of her employer, but there are many parts to it that we can learn from. Ultimately, it shows how vital flexible working is for retaining new mothers in the workplace. Rather than share the interview in full, we have highlighted some of the key themes and outlined key learnings from the perspective of both the new mother and the employer:
“When I told my employers I was pregnant, they were very helpful and seemed pleased for me. They went through the paperwork we needed to complete and looked at my risk assessment for the workplace. During my maternity leave I had no contact from work and it was up to myself to contact them and organise my own training to complete prior to my return. I completed three ‘Keeping In Touch’ days (which were all training days) and returned back to work on the planned day. I was unaware that there should have been forms given to me to complete prior to returning to work that would inform HR and Payroll I was returning. Consequently, I did not get any pay on my first month back to work when my maternity leave had come to an end.”
Manager Perspective: The process got off to a good start, but it wasn’t seen through to the end. The manager explained everything Louise had to do and ensured that she knew her responsibilities up until her date of return. However in this case, a vital piece of information was not passed on and that information was of utmost importance to the employee. When it comes to new parents, pay really matters. They are likely to be at their most vulnerable financially, so missing out on a month’s pay is unacceptable. When you are working with a pregnant employee to plan their leave and return, consider the employee’s needs as well as the business needs and make sure everything is covered.
Employee Perspective: By working with her manager to plan her leave and return and carrying out her responsibilities during that time, Louise did everything right. However in making her own arrangements for the keep in touch days days, training, and return, it was assumed that she would know to inform HR and Payroll of her return date. Louise could not have known to do this if she wasn’t told, but it is something she could have asked about. When you arrange your return date, it’s a good idea to ask about pay and when you will be receiving it so that you can plan ahead financially and make sure you are on Payroll’s radar.
Working Hours and Childcare
“I returned to work full time (three long days a week) when my baby was six and a half months old. My return to work went well; everyone was very welcoming and pleased to see me! During my maternity leave there was some talk about changing my shift times (which I heard through someone else), so I contacted my manager and asked if I could come in for a meeting and have a say as to what hours I would be working when I went back. Following this, I requested a three week rolling rota and it was agreed by my manager. This was incredibly helpful for planning childcare. Between my husband’s and my shift work, we had just one day in a three month period when our baby had to be with my parents for the day because we were both working.”
Manager Perspective: This is a fantastic example of working with an employee to make sure their working hours work well for both parties. Although there is still a lack of flexibility in shift length, Louise was able to fit the hours on offer to suit her life as a new mother. It’s a shame that she had to hear of the discussions about her hours through someone else and that she had to make contact herself to get the rota she needed, but the manager was open to including her in the process and taking her suggestions on board to ensure a smooth return. It’s also worth noting that Louise’s husband was having similar conversations in his place of work at the same time. Childcare considerations are essential for new parents, so inviting them to discuss working patterns and dates with you, and then being flexible with them is key.
Employee Perspective: When Louise heard that her manager was considering changing her shift times through a third party, it would have been easy for her to panic and worry about what was going to change. Louise took the initiative to put herself in the discussion and contact her manager directly to make sure that her needs as a new mother were taken into consideration. This allowed her to learn why the changes were happening and what the options were, so that she could discuss them with her husband at home and come up with her own plan to put forward.
Balancing Work And Baby
“Shift work for me is a real advantage. I work three 12pm-12am shifts a week and have study time on top of this, the rota is the same every three weeks, and after the third week I get 8 consecutive days off. Because of this, I still get to spend every morning with my baby and leave for work at 11.40am. He is almost always in bed and asleep by 6.30pm and therefore there are only 6 hours in the day he is awake without me. It has been a challenge to continue breastfeeding, but I managed to reduce feeds in the afternoon a few weeks before my return so that helped a lot. Pre-baby, I used to complete work at home on my days off, but I now dedicate all my free time to my fast-growing baby. I want as much time as possible with him when I’m not at work. However I’m no less committed to my job - my current goal is to change some of the local policies and procedures within the department to improve patient satisfaction and reduce waiting times. Having a job with flexible working times and working late into the evening has suited me well. My advice to new parents is to ask your manager if there is flexibility in your working hours. It worked for me!”
Manager Perspective: Louise feels that she has a healthy work-life balance as a direct result of having been able to influence her working hours. Having a working relationship based on mutual trust instead of managerial control is likely to improve her performance and happiness at work too. Research shows that employees who are offered flexible working experience more job autonomy, a higher level of job satisfaction, decreased levels of stress, and a more peaceful family life. Although Louise is no longer completing work at home outside of working hours, the skills she will have gained in the transition to motherhood more than balance this out. New parents learn to be super organised, plan to make plans, make preparations in advance, and always have a backup.
Employee Perspective: Louise was not afraid to ask her manager for the hours and shifts she wanted, and now she feels able to enjoy her new baby at home whilst having some control over her working life too. Shift work may not be for everyone so this is not necessarily an example of the ‘perfect schedule’ for a new mum, but it does show that you can negotiate your way to a schedule that suits you and your life. It’s normal to want to spend all your free time with your new baby when previously you may have worked extra hours. This does not mean that you are no longer committed to your place of work! Finding the right balance so that you feel comfortable is the most important thing.
If you would like to explore the ways in which you can promote and support flexible working within your own place of work, please email us at Thriving Talent to start a conversation: [email protected].
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