I have just returned to my day job in PR after nearly 11 months off on maternity leave and I can tell you now that my maternity leave was not without its challenges (from start to finish). I started my mat leave with trepidation; fearful of losing my identity and anxious about not being able to let go of my career. But then life happened, I had my baby and all of a sudden, I had managed 11 months of being away from my career, whilst keeping a little human alive and somehow finding a way to stay sane at the same time.
One of the things that really helped me with my return to work was doing my Keep in Touch (KIT) days. These days enabled me to feel much closer to my team, understand how the business had changed and what I needed to do to change with it and generally made the whole transition from full time parent to working parent much easier. When I spoke to my mum friends about my KIT days, it seemed I was in a small minority of people who had benefitted from a good experience with regards to KIT days. This surprised me greatly and made me want to look into this in a little more detail on my blog.
Given KIT days are limited to just 10 days, and of course dependent on whether the parent can secure childcare, it is important for returning staff and employers alike to make the most of these days. In my opinion employers can, and should, help with this to ensure everyone gets the best possible outcome from the time spent in the office.
Whilst arranging KIT days sounds simple enough, I have actually heard some real horror stories about them so far (from friends and people contacting me via my blog). Some for example didn’t bother to arrange their KIT days because they were scared about having to go back to work when their heads weren’t properly back in the game, others tried to organise KIT days but didn’t ever hear back from their line managers about when to go in, others went in on their allocated day only to be told that their line manager had forgotten about it and sadly others who did manage to get in for their KIT days were given menial tasks, left alone for long periods of time and made to feel unwelcome. Surely it shouldn’t have to be like this?
Now, I do not pretend to be a human resources specialist, but I am a line manager myself and I am also a mum who has recently gone through this.. So direct from the horse’s mouth; here are some simple tips you can follow to help those returning feel at ease and also make the most of their time in the office:
1. Put yourself in their shoes: Don’t make it hard for your staff to arrange their KIT days. I have heard so many stories about employers not getting back to their staff about what dates and times are suitable for KIT days and many who haven’t taken into consideration that they need to sort childcare well in advance. Those who are off on maternity leave are already most likely stressing out about returning to work, so the easier you can make these conversations the better.
2. Plan ahead: Recommend to them that they book meetings in before they return to the office so that their day is orgnaised and runs smoothly. Encourage them to book in regular breaks in between each meeting in case something runs on. You don’t want to burn them out on a KIT day given they will most likely have to go home to bath the little one and deal with nighttime feeds.
3. Computer says no: There is nothing worse than scrabbling around trying to make your PC work the morning you arrive because you haven’t logged on for a while. Sorting out little things like this can make all the difference between a stressful day and a relevantly smooth day for your returning staff members.
4. Money talks: Agree on how and when they will be remunerated for their KIT days in advance of them coming in. They may feel embarrassed asking how they will be reimbursed, so take this topic into your own hands and make it easy for them. Legislation is a little blurry as to how much one should be paid for a KIT day, so try and be as transparent upfront as possible.
5. Welcome home: Imposter syndrome can really set in when people return to work after an extended period of time off. Don’t heighten that by making them feel like an outcast or reminding them about how much has changed whilst they have been away. Remind them how valuable they are to the business as much as possible.
6. Inbox hell: if they are required to use email whilst they are on their KIT day, be sure to recommend to them to have a clear out in advance of going into the office. Or if they don’t wish to do this in their own time/ they are too busy to do it, then make sure you factor in some time to wade through the millions of emails they will have received. Give them the time to do this rather than jumping straight into meetings.
7. Don’t cooo over baby too much: Ask them a few questions about their baby to show you are interested, but don’t talk about baby all day. Chances are they just want to talk about normal things for once and leave thoughts of the bambino at home.
8. Fancy a cuppa?: Take it from me, something as simple as making them a coffee will instantly relax them and make them feel welcome. Sounds silly and perhaps obvious, but they will no doubt enjoy being able to drink a whole cup of coffee without leaving half of it to go cold whilst they attend to baby. Also ensure they make the most of having a ‘grown up’ lunch where they don’t have to hand over half their food to their baby. Better still why not shout them to lunch to really make them feel welcome.
9. Gently does it: When getting them up to speed, try to ease them in gently. Run through things in order and don’t overload them. Likewise, if they are meeting with clients, make sure you have spent time with them to catch them up in advance. You don’t want anyone to be taken by surprise if your clients throw a curveball their way.
10. Remember they are still on maternity leave: Don’t forget that they are still on maternity leave. Most importantly don’t let them leave with loads of tasks to do or actions on their ‘to do list’. This day is about keeping in touch, rather than them taking on a load of work.
KIT days are of course optional to both the employee and employer, but in my opinion, they are an incredibly valuable and effective method for employees to keep in touch with their workplace and ensure their actual return will be easier. Mine certainly has been.
Most importantly, KIT days will make your returning staff feel more confident, remind them of how valuable they are to the business and prove to them that they can make a success of being a working parent.
BIO: Holly Pither is a new mum to baby Amelia and similarly new to the blogging world. She started her blog when she first went off on maternity leave. Unlike many of her friends, Holly was very fearful of going off on maternity leave, scared about losing her identity and panicked about just being mum. She writes all about the trials and tribulations of maternity leave and finds it very therapeutic. In her day job Holly is a PR associate director at an agency in Oxford, England. She loves her job and she loves her baby. It is her belief that all parents can love both their kids and their career and, with the right flexibility, neither should suffer.
Today she wants to offer some advice to employers and HR departments on how they can help people returning to work after their maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave, with a specific emphasis on arranging their Keeping in Touch (KIT) days.