Small business owner explains why it is important to look after new mums in the workplace

When you’re running a small but expanding business, there are lots of things which come flying at you with little or no warning, which you have to figure out and successfully navigate through. Stuff like your first ever VAT return, dealing with a staff grievance or negotiating your first distribution contract. This process usually involves an initial period of mild panic, followed by some deep breaths, a cup of tea and lots of googling. One such curveball that swung into the business recently was when our brilliant Office Manager informed us that she was expecting her first child – cue hugs, congratulations, conversations about baby names and a fair bit of tea fuelled googling.

Now, as conscientious business owners our first thought with any major decision is – how can we best serve the interests of the company whilst navigating this issue. Nikki is a very good Office Manager, losing her would mean losing years of experience which would be bad for business. Doing this properly, would demonstrate that we mean it when we say we care about our staff. There was a lot at stake. We wrapped our heads around our statutory responsibilities and then we talked to Nikki about how she was feeling, made sure she knew she could take time off if she needed it and assured her we would support her through this important, life changing development.
We agreed that we would take the process in bite size chunks with an emphasis on communication and flexibility – reviewing the situation regularly and checking we were all still on the same page. I would clumsily offer help here and there as Nikki grew ever more pregnant, which would be batted away in typical fashion – Nikki is Yorkshire born and bred, and not one for making a fuss.
To try and cover all the bases we decided it would be best to get maternity cover in place a month before Nikki’s due date, We found the perfect replacement, someone with lots of experience but slightly different skills, which we thought would be useful to try out within our growing company. This decision was vindicated when sure enough, little Nathaniel arrived 2 and half weeks early!
So at this point Nikki is at home recuperating and bonding with her newborn and Angela (her replacement) is in the swing of things in the office, and all with no detrimental effects to the business, so far so good.

Fast forward a couple of months and we finally get to meet little Nate when Nikki comes in to have a chat about how things are going and to pass the baby around for cuddles. Nikki had been keen to take 6 months maternity leave and we of course supported this, reminding her that if it ended up being longer, we could work around that too. Over the next 4 months we set up some ‘keeping in touch’ days, where Nikki came in and worked in the office – this way, she kept up to date with any developments in the business and we were able to check in with her and see how things were going at home. Together we discussed how we would manage the transition back to work and agreed that it would be best for all if she came back on part time hours to begin with, this would then be reviewed after 6 months.

The whole process has been an important learning curve for us as a small family business, confirming our assumptions that having an employee who has a child whilst working for you does not need to be a disaster, in fact if the situation is managed well it can be a very positive thing. Through experience we have come to learn that a business won’t survive unless those working in it are flexible, adaptable and willing to make sacrifices – this goes for directors, managers and staff. By trying to create a culture where we support each other through life’s numerous challenges, including having a family, we hope to create a resilient and cooperative workforce dedicated to the aims of the enterprise – this is not just the right thing to do socially but it also makes good commercial sense.

So this is where we find ourselves now with Nikki working 3 days a week, Angela working 2 days a week and the business expanding steadily and for the most part smoothly. I suppose business is much like parenting in that sense, as it will never be an entirely smooth ride, but you can navigate most things with a bit of dedication, love, understanding and cups of tea, lots of cups of tea…….and google.

Hugo, Director of Sweet Cecily’s

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