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Maternity leave: fazed out and slowly welcomed

Working mothers-to-be may end up feeling like a disposable resource before they go on their maternity leave and this could be followed by difficulties reintegrating when they do return to work.

This is the finding of Dr Lynne Millward of the University of Surrey. She recently revealed her findings in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

She followed eight women, aged between 25 and 40 years old, who were pregnant for the first time, working full-time in a range of public and private organisations (including education, health, retail and finance) and who returned to work after their child was born.

She found that all of the women felt that as their pregnancy continued they had become invisible to the organisation as a valued employee. “I was a person with a name and a contribution to make and now I’m just a pregnant woman whose bump has taken her over,” said one of the mums-to-be.

Quite often this ‘invisibility’ was simple a result of practical decisions, such as reducing and reassigning the women’s responsibilities to ensure preparation of staff for maternity cover. There was a full appreciation of the need for maternity cover but all the women felt especially alienated by efforts on the part of particular colleagues to organise cover without their consultation.

Once their maternity leave was over and the women returned to employment, they found it difficult to reintegrate and to establish themselves as both mother and employee. One mother said: “You feel you have almost got to start again, like you’ve lost all that personal credit you’ve built up against the old you … there’s definitely a feeling you have to build it up again.”

All of the women said they felt they had to prove their continued commitment to their jobs despite their changed circumstances but the half who had kept in touch with work either socially (through informal and formal contacts) or psychologically (in their own minds), appeared to find the reintegration experience a little less daunting and less problematic generally.

Dr Millward said her work had implications on what employers can do to make maternity leave easier on mums-to-be. She said: “It seems that women may appreciate an opportunity to take some ownership of, or at least have some involvement in, organising maternity cover. It may also be important to help women to retain a sense of organisation membership during their leave period. Some women may not wish to be interrupted by work matters during their period of maternity leave while other may like to keep at least one finger in the pie.”

Stuart Miller | alfa
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