Flexible working keeps mothers in the workforce

2011

If employers are serious about wanting to encourage women to return to work after having children, one of the most important things they can do is to offer new mothers greater flexibility about when, where and how they work.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, flexible working, job security and the ability to make use of a variety of their job skills leads to greater retention of working mothers, while the impact of work-related stress on their physical and mental health causes greater turnover.

"Having a flexible schedule is an important element necessary to decrease working mom turnover because it can be used when work demands arise," said study author Dawn S. Carlson, a professor of management at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University in Texas.

"When confronted by one or more job demands, a flexible schedule provides working moms with alternatives for meeting those demands while caring for their newborns. When working moms are better able to control their work environment and adapt, work-related stress is less likely to become a family issue," she said.

Job security also plays an important role in decision-making, Carlson said. When job security is high, women are not distracted by worry or exhausted by strain. Instead, they are able to engage more fully in responsibilities both inside and outside the workplace.

"Job security heightens motivation and energy, particularly for mothers who are sensitive to the security of their jobs after returning from maternity leave. When working mothers believe that their tenure with an organization is not at risk, they will have more energy and other resources with which to fully engage and perform both at work and at home," added Merideth J. Ferguson, a co-author of the study.

Dawn Carlson added that the study suggests that employers may also be able to promote beneficial outcomes through systematic attempts to increase the use of a working mother's skills by cross-training her for multiple functions.

"Although further research is needed, the results of this study indicate the impact of job characteristics on work-family relations that play a role in the mental and physical health and retention of working mothers as they make the pivotal transition back to work after childbirth," she said.