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WHY MATERNITY LEAVE IS GOOD FOR…WELL, EVERYBODY
29TH SEPTEMBER 2017
My daughter is now 8 weeks old and whilst I feel I have accomplished a lot if I make it out of my PJs by mid-day, I’m already nearing the average time working mums take off in the US (10 weeks) for parental leave. Whilst the average maternity leave taken in the UK is around 6 months, in the United States where there is no paid maternity leave, 25% of working mums return to work within 10 days… and 33% take no formal time off at all!!
My sleep deprived brain can’t possibly comprehend being back in the office only a few weeks after the birth of a child - let alone formulating complex and well-thought through strategies for clients.
I’ve been asked numerous times now how long I’m planning to take off for my maternity leave and my answer of a year is met with a variety of responses. Some have expressed ’admiration’ but I’m not taking a stance, just what I am entitled to. For me it is about taking the right amount of time off for each individual - whether that’s 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years.
There are obviously perceived, and real, penalties to taking leave - not to mention financial pressures to return to work as soon as possible - but I believe there are key benefits for me and my daughter (and society as a whole) to taking this time.
It gives me:
Distance… leading to better clarity and renewed vigour (and increased motivation) for my job upon return
Exposure to the “real world” (as opposed to the London agency bubble)… critical to my job as a strategist
A chance to properly bond with my child (and spend time with her sibling) – and greater bonding has overall benefits with the mental health of the parent
Encouragement - greater maternity leave means mothers are more likely to breast feed, which has health improvements and long-term disease prevention for the child
Healthy children – studies show that increased exposure to parental care reduces infant mortality rates, and also correlates to reductions in ongoing problematic behaviours as well as overall cognitive and behavioural benefits
Whilst there are real costs to businesses here, there are also broader benefits, namely:
Increased loyalty and higher retention rates – Accenture and Google both saw over 40% reduction in the rates mothers left work when they increased their paid maternity packages
Overall savings, as paying for parental leave is often still cheaper than recruitment
Good parental leave packages can help boost recruitment, kudos and positive reputation
Happier parents mean a happier workforce, helping drive greater morale…
…whilst happier parents returning to work often also delivers increased productivity
Paid maternity leave can help ‘level the field’ by helping reduce the number of women who feel pushed out of the workforce due to lack of support
For me taking a good chunk of time off is only possible with a supportive husband and company. My company offers paid leave and has worked with me to ensure my time off, and return back to work, are conducted in the way best for me. It in turn makes me feel valued and empowered. So whilst cost is always a key consideration, and the choice should be made by each individual, I would urge all parents and businesses to consider the broader and real benefits of (extended) parental leave.
Roz is Strategy Director at Parnters Andrews Aldridge. Keep up to date with her maternity leave journey on her linkedin page.