For most mothers in Singapore, the birth of a baby does not herald hours of snuggling with the little one as flowers bloom and rainbows dart across the sky. No, the first thing most of my friends think about after giving birth is all the work they’re going to have to catch up on when they get back to the office.
That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. The infamous Happiness Poll found that 9 out of 10 women intend to head right back to the workplace after maternity leave.
Singaporean women continue to lament that too little is being done to help them make a smooth transition back to the workplace—or at least one that doesn’t make them wish they had married a tycoon so they wouldn’t have to go through the stress of trying to make things work in an unforgiving professional environment. Here are some of the options typically offered by companies.
Flexible or staggered hours
While the civil service has taken the lead in offering employees the option of staggered hours, companies in the private sector have been slow to follow suit.
Many local SMEs are still too afraid to give up control of their employees by letting them work flexible hours. That’s what happens when employee performance is gauged based on face time rather than performance, an old-fashioned approach that is hampering productivity.
Even those who do manage to broker special arrangements are the exception rather than the rule.
Lilian, a 38-year-old secretary and mother of three, succeeded in getting her boss to allow her to come in and leave the office an hour early each day—but only because the company had been desperate when they hired her and agreed only so she would accept the job. She isn’t the only mother in the office, but none of her colleagues are allowed to leave the office a minute earlier, even if they arrive in the wee hours of the morning.
In addition, she has to deal with discrimination at the office from colleagues and superiors due to her special arrangement.
“Many of my colleagues do their work slowly and leave late, but because I have to pick up my kids after school, I force myself to be very efficient during working hours so I can leave on the dot. My boss often complains when I leave on time as she has to stay back at least one more hour, and some of my colleagues seem to think that I’m doing less work than them because I leave earlier.”
There are companies that have benefited from helping their employees arrange their work around the new changes in their lives, and communication is key when a flexible work arrangement is put in place.
Many mothers out there would prefer to spend more time looking after the baby, but finances dictate that they work. For many, part-time work strikes a happy medium—if you can find it.
Lynn, a 30-year-old expectant mother, has found some part-time opportunities—but is hesitant to take them up. At her former workplace, part-time positions entailing 3 days of work are available—but they come with no annual leave, no childcare leave, no bonus, no benefits and no employer’s CPF contributions.
She says, “I feel that if I’m taking on a flexible work arrangement it’s reasonable if I’m penalised in terms of pay or job prospects. But I think it’s terrible that if you work part-time you don’t get any employment benefits.”
Not all companies have such draconian policies, though.
Cherie, a 35-year-old mother of two is an accountant who works three days a week. “When I joined my firm I was already a mother, so in my job application I made it clear I wanted a part-time position.”
Still, she hints at darker things to come. “There may come a time when my boss decides he only wants full-time workers. I’ve been receiving hints from management that they want me to work full-time now that my kids are older. I guess it’s cheaper for them to make me go full-time than to hire another employee.”
If local SMEs are reluctant to let their employees stagger their workday, they’re even more reluctant to allow them to work from home.
While slightly over 10% of companies condone some form of flex-time or staggered hours, only 5.8% allow tele-working.
This is a pity, as thanks to the Internet employees are often expected to be on-call pretty much 24/7 anyway.
Those who do get away with wrangling work-from-home arrangements tend to be more senior employees.
“I’ve heard of employees at my bank working half a day in the office and half a day at home after maternity leave. But I think these are the lucky ones. Obviously not every mother gets to do that,” says Karen, a 30-year-old bank executive.
Time off for medical checkups
Pregnant women need to make about 10 to 15 visits to the doctor before they actually give birth, and often this has to be done during working hours.
However, a recent survey conducted by NTUC revealed that only 4 out of 10 women were allowed to go for prenatal check-ups without having to draw upon their annual, medical or no pay leave.
Yvette, a 37-year-old lawyer, was lucky enough to be able to take time off during her pregnancy. She would leave the office to go for her checkups and return when they were done. Often, nobody even realised she was gone.
“Appointments only last an hour or two, and most people head back to the office and continue working, staying late or bringing work home if they can’t finish. Forcing them to take leave when they’re still finishing a full day’s work makes no sense and only serves to increase friction between employers and employees,” she says.
What do you think can be done to help mothers return to the workplace after maternity leave? Let us know in the comments!