Maternity Career Transitioning: Before the Leave


Employers want to attract and retain talented staff. One important component of this human capital optimization is effectively managing maternity leave career transitions.

Mothers account for 9.8 million members of Canada’s 35.7 million member population (Statistics Canada, 2015). Furthermore, 73 per cent of mothers work in either a part-time or full-time capacity (Statistics Canada, 2010). Consequently, mothers who work outside of the home represent a significant proportion of the total Canadian talent pool.

For working mothers, bringing a baby into their lives can have many rewarding and challenging impacts both personally and professionally. Thus, working mothers are especially likely to remember how well (or poorly) their organizations managed their maternity career transitions. Maternity or adoptive leave is a very emotional and important period of time for women, and having the extra stress of a less than supportive employer can detract from this experience and future work commitment.

Managing Maternity Career Transitions

When employers manage maternity career transitions well, it can improve working mothers’ engagement and build loyalty to the company. On a larger scale, proactively managing the maternity process can enhance an employer’s reputation amongst potential employees and the community.

Since there are many employer and employee benefits stemming from a well-supported maternity transition process, HR professionals may be curious to know how well employers are doing in this regard. To gain more insight into maternity leave and its impact on career development, Canada Career Counselling partnered with the Canadian Education Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) to conduct a three year, nationwide research project to better understand the perspectives of both employees and employers.

Study Reveals Maternity Impacts Disparity

This study showed that over 38 per cent of females participating felt that maternity leave had a negative impact on promotional and career development opportunities, yet only 15 per cent of employers reported that it had a negative impact. Thus, there was a disconnect between how well employers thought that they were managing maternity leaves and what working mothers perceived.

The good news is that the research also found many simple, cost-effective best practices for maternity leave management. These are explained in detail in Canada Career Counselling’s Employer’s Guide titled Making It Work! How to effectively manage maternity leave career transitions.

Key Steps to Making It Work!

Summarized below are seven key recommendations from the guide that can be used prior to an employee’s maternity leave. It is important to ensure that these are carried out in collaboration with the employee so as to avoid making assumptions.

  1. Career dialogues: Have a conversation with the employee about her career goals and her career plan. This can help you to determine how the organization can support her with her career plan, as well as how her career plan can be integrated into the organization.
  1. Prepare for the transition: Decide how the employee’s workload will be managed while she is on leave. Options to consider are hiring someone to cover the maternity leave or redistributing some tasks amongst the team.
  1. Create a return to work plan: This will ensure that expectations are clear for both the employee and the employer. Some details to consider are expected date of return, procedure for the employee to notify the employer of her return to work date, employee-employer communication preferences for the leave (e.g., whether to be included in training or team events), and the re-onboarding process.
  1. Understand colleague and customer reactions: Consider which stakeholders will be impacted by the maternity leave and develop a communication strategy. Stakeholders will need to know who to contact in the working mother’s absence and when this change will begin. Be sensitive to your employee’s privacy and ensure that you do not disclose her pregnancy to third parties before she is comfortable with this.
  1. Consider health and safety: Once an employee notifies her employer that she is pregnant, the employer should encourage her to communicate with HR and management about any doctor-ordered restrictions. If any of these restrictions are present, an HR professional should assess the health and safety risks related to those restrictions.
  1. Accommodations: Make modifications for the employee as needed to support her health and safety. Ensure that these accommodations are tailored to the employee’s unique needs.
  1. Conduct a maternity leave exit interview: Though the employee is only leaving the organization temporarily for her maternity leave, this still provides an opportunity for feedback. This can include both feedback on the organization in general as well as specific feedback regarding her experience of the maternity transition thus far. In addition, you can ask her for insight into what would be helpful for her during her maternity leave and for transitioning back into the workplace.

Takeaways From Canada Career Counselling

For more information, Canada Career Counselling encourages you to read our aforementioned employers’ guide, Making It Work! How to effectively manage maternity leave career transitions. A complimentary PDF version of this guide, as well as print copies available for purchase, can be accessed online. In addition, you can access our free employer webinar online.


Read Part Two: Maternity Career Transitioning: During and After the Leave now.



Michelle Sande, M.C., R. Psych. (p) is a registered provisional psychologist with Canada Career Counselling. She is passionate about helping people navigate career and personal transitions throughout their lives.


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