A flexible employer lets a mother keep contributing at work

Shawna Samuelson, The Daily Record Newswire

Like most married couples in the U.S., my husband and I depend on two incomes. After we found out we were expecting a baby in 2012, there was no way for us to change that reality. Plus, I need to work. I knew I wanted to be a working mother, but I also knew that I wanted to be a hands-on parent. Through the support of my employer, I was able to do both.

Working (very) remotely
I developed a serious complication during my pregnancy that required near-constant fetal monitoring and hospital bed rest starting at 31 weeks. There were a few other expectant mothers on the floor, but I quickly learned my situation was unique. While I was able to continue taking conference calls and returning emails from my hospital bed, the other working moms had to use their vacation days, quit their jobs, or start their maternity leave early, reducing the time they would have with their newborns.

With eight hours of my days filled with work, my time in the hospital passed (relatively) quickly.

Peace of mind through maternity leave

My employer belongs to an astoundingly scarce group of companies that offer paid maternity and paternity leave. Combined with a short-term disability policy, I had all 12 weeks of my maternity leave paid. Instead of fretting about finances, I was able to focus on caring for my premature son. This is a luxury not available to 84 percent of working mothers in the U.S.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with more than 50 workers to grant up to 12 weeks unpaid leave. Oliver Russell only had 10 employees on staff, but chooses to offer paid leave because it sees the business benefits of maternity/paternity leave.
A recent paper by the International Labour Organization suggested that when small- and medium-sized companies offer (and support) paid family leave, the result is happier workers, lower employee turnover, and less absenteeism—all important contributors to higher overall productivity and more efficient operations. This finding is supported by what researchers observed in California, where paid maternity leave was mandated on the state-level in 2002. Before the law was enacted small employers complained about the costs associated with the new maternity benefits, but then later reported that offering paid leave seemed to boost productivity.

After my maternity leave was over, Otto accompanied me to the office for four months. That isn’t possible with many infants, but Otto was content sitting on the conference room table during meetings, quietly attending conference calls, and was able to take naps in an office with an open floor plan.

My industry is unique, my office is relaxed and accommodating, and my clients are mostly out-of-state. I am able to fulfill most of my work with email or calls. Otto was able to be by my side until he was 7 months old. Many clients weren’t even aware that my son was in the office—but every client who heard about it (many of them also working moms) commented that they were proud to partner with a company that supported motherhood so completely.

I now work in the office two days a week and work from home (with my son) the remainder of the time. While the days at home are exponentially more difficult than any day in the office, I am still so grateful to have this time with Otto. I may have to finish a few conference calls holed-up in the bathroom with a toddler knocking (or screaming) at the door, but I get to be the one he is screaming at! I get to see his milestones happen.

Accommodating mothers helps businesses retain their valued employees. Women leave the workforce during their prime earning years because they can’t achieve a work/life balance. But they’ll stay at a supportive, flexible workplace. This flexibility can be manifested in many different ways, including work-from-home options, compressed schedules, job-shares, and paid family leave.

Healthwise is a good example. The company offers 12 weeks of maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and a remote worker policy. Others, chosen by Working Mother magazine as examples of the best companies in 2014, include Deloitte (14 weeks of paid maternity leave), Patagonia (eight weeks of paid maternity/paternity/adoptive parent leave, flexible scheduling, and telecommuting), and IBM (alternative schedules are seen as an asset to the company’s culture).

Workplace flexibility is only successful when there is buy-in from the employers AND the employees. Workers have to show they’re worthy of trust and take their jobs seriously, wherever they’re working. They need to be responsive to work contacts at all times, and be willing to work odd hours. And they need to find an employer with values that match their own, that will help them find work/life balance. Once that balance is in place, it’s amazing how much more productive you can be.


Shawna Samuelson is a senior producer at Oliver Russell.


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