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Welcoming Back Maternity Returners: 5 Conversation Kick-Starters

When members of your organisation are returning to work after a period of maternity  leave, it can be both exciting and daunting for them. As a manager or colleague, it’s essential that you foster an environment to help them feel welcome, valued and supported.

We know, from talking to HR Directors and Line Managers, that it can feel uncomfortable knowing what to say that’s acceptable, particularly if you haven’t had children yourself. To help you out with this, here are 5 safe conversation starters to start engaging your maternity returners.

1. Acknowledge their transition

It’s not a secret that they’ve been on maternity leave, so why not start by simply acknowledging it? Expressing a sentiment such as “Welcome back! We’re so pleased to see you. How was your maternity leave?” can break the ice and give you some insight into how they’re doing. 

Be prepared for their answer, they might share that they found it hard being away from work, or that something hadn’t gone to plan. As much as the conversation starter is important, listening to the answer and responding appropriately shows that you recognise the significance of this milestone in their life and that you’re sensitive to their needs. 

2. Ask how they are and mean it

Showing genuine concern for their well-being is crucial to building a supportive work culture. If you’re met with a ‘fine’, try a more open ended question like ‘how are you feeling about being back at work?’ which could allow them to express any concerns or challenges they might be facing. 

3. Schedule a designated time to discuss their career

Engaging in a conversation about their goals and aspirations can help maternity returners feel reconnected to their professional identity and motivated to pursue their ambitions. It’s also an opportunity for them to share with you how they feel about their career now they’re a working parent. In our experience, no two people are the same, so try not to make any assumptions.

For instance, one person may return not feeling as ambitious as they were before, or wanting to take it slow to re-integrate all of their responsibilities. Another person may be more driven and motivated by providing for their family. You could lead the conversation with the question ‘How do you envision your career progressing now that you’re back?’ or ‘Are there any new skills or experiences you’d like to gain?” Showing an interest in their professional development conveys that you value their contributions and are invested in supporting their growth. 

4. Offer flexibility as much as possible

Transitioning back to work while juggling childcare can be challenging for new parents. Things don’t always go to plan, childcare arrangements can fall through, children can be ill etc. Initiating a conversation about work arrangements might be what that person needs in order to alleviate some of the pressure they might be facing. As much as you are able, demonstrate your willingness to support their needs by suggesting flexible working arrangements such as adjusted schedules or remote working. 

5. Celebrate their achievements

This one really goes for all employees, by acknowledging both personal and professional key milestones you can help maternity returners (and all member of your team / organisation!) feel valued and appreciated at work. It could be their first day back, first month, a work anniversary, a successful project, to give just some examples.  When our contributions are recognised, we feel seen and valued. Reinforcing our sense of belonging, building trust and fostering positive relationships. 

Returning to work after maternity leave is a significant life transition and thoughtful conversations which show that you care, can play a vital role in facilitating a smooth return.  By using these conversation starters you can demonstrate empathy, support and appreciation creating an inclusive work environment where all employees feel respected as they navigate various stages of their lives and careers.

Please get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about the coaching solutions, we offer which includes one-to-one, group coaching and line manager training.

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.  

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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