Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Thursday 18 January 2018

Claire Flannery is the Founder and Director of ‘Strength Within’ coaching and consultancy, where she focuses on helping people create the headspace and mental clarity to discover, cultivate and maximise their strength within. Claire is a qualified Business Psychologist and Executive, Business & Personal Coach with over a decade of experience working in HR leadership in Financial and Professional Services. She has worked with business leaders and individuals through significant organisational and personal change, including periods of organisational growth, restructure and downsizing. Claire is a member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, British Psychological Society, and Association for Coaching.

Dealing with employees taking family leave under the Maternity Protection Acts (1994 and 2004), the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act (2016), and the Parental Leave Act (1998) can often seem to be a bit daunting in terms of what you can and can’t say or do.

However, there is compelling evidence to suggest that how employees are treated during this period of personal and professional transition can have a significant impact on their motivation and engagement, and their subsequent retention and progression in your organisation. Recent UK research found that 77% of women had a negative or discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and/or return from maternity leave1. In 2016, PWC found that 65% of maternity returners are working below their potential2. Closer to home, Seven recently found that only 11% of Irish employers are managing maternity transitions very well3.

With some forethought, it is very possible to have positive, meaningful and productive conversations with employees preparing for, on, and returning from, family leave.

So what can you do to increase your confidence and create an inclusive culture in the workplace?

Here are my top 3 tips:

1.      Start with the basics

Familiarise yourself with the legislation. Take time to learn about the relevant legislation and corresponding company policies, and then rest assured that as long as you are truly treating all your employees equally and fairly, you have nothing to worry about!

2.      Ask questions

Don’t assume you know how your pregnant employee or new parent is feeling or what they need; ask them. Maybe they want to be involved in finding their replacement. Perhaps they expect to be busy right up until their departure or as soon as they return – or maybe they would prefer to hand over some of their projects before they leave and/or ease back in on a reduced working week initially. The best approach is always to ask first – ask what support they need and when, and encourage them to take an active role in planning this transition.

3.      Agree a communications plan between you for before, during and after leave, and stick to it

This is so simple, but so often forgotten about. I hear all too often accounts of an employer’s desire to give their team member space while on leave being misconstrued as disinterest and not the new parent not being seen as a valued employee. You can avoid this by agreeing broadly when, how often, and how you will communicate while your employee is on leave.

These are my top three tips, but there are plenty more ways that you can successfully navigate these transitions. If you want to learn more, PAI will host a workshop on Thursday 22 March on this topic.

You can book your place here.


  1. Adams, L., Winterbotham, M. et. al (2016) Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage: Experiences of Mothers, EHRC and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
  2. Yong Jing Teow and Priya Ravidran (2016) Women Returners: the £1 billion career break penalty for professional women.
  3. Seven (2016) Seven positive changes the workplace: over seven years from seven.

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