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(Marcelle Faucher for The Globe and Mail)
(Marcelle Faucher for The Globe and Mail)

For working moms, job takes back seat to baby after maternity leave Add to ...

Maybe it's about changing priorities.

Women returning to work post-baby often care less about their job than before they gave birth, says a joint survey released last week by ForbesWoman and TheBump.com, a U.S. website for first-time parents.

The survey, which polled 2,210 women online last month, found that although 59 per cent of mothers said they were "glad to be back at work," 59 per cent also said they "no longer cared as much" about their job.

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The survey highlights the conflict many moms feel when they prepare to re-enter the work force after maternity leave: Though bored by the mind-numbing diaper-change routine, they find little comfort in the impending grind.

"If women are already not terribly invested in their careers, having a baby really shifts your attention," said Carley Roney, editor-in-chief of TheBump.com.

A mother of three children aged 12, 5 and 1, Ms. Roney remembered her own transition: "I just wasn't on my game. I was worried about getting home even though I cared about what I was doing. In those times, work didn't matter as much."

Tela Durbin felt the same drive to get home to see her son, and felt guilty about it.

"You know there is scrutiny. People are looking at you, because a lot of times you have to leave at 5," said Ms. Durbin, an associate copy director in Cincinnati who keeps a blog called Working Moms Against Guilt.

With her son in pre-school while she works full-time, Ms. Durbin said she's talked to many women who either do the same and feel chronically overwhelmed, or who quit and start over elsewhere part-time.

Many experts advocate for the part-time phase-in after maternity leave.

"To come back to work five days a week from that first day is rough," Ms. Roney said.

The survey reported that 24 per cent of respondents had some paid maternity leave, but it did not specify how long. U.S. maternity leave is generally much shorter than the Canadian standard, which allows employees up to a year of combined maternity and parental leave.

While 23 per cent of the women surveyed reported having flex hours, it is still a challenge to find employers willing to tailor jobs to women's needs. After her son was born in 2006, Sara Sutton Fell found so many telecommuting scams online that she decided to started FlexJobs.com, a job-postings site for returning moms looking for alternative work arrangements.

The Colorado woman said companies would do well to invest in work-life balance solutions for new moms to avoid high turnover and the cost of retraining: "The employers have a short-sighted view," she said.

Ms. Fell has spoken to many returning mothers who asked their bosses about a telecommuting option, only to come up against "historical views."

"Employers think that if they're not watching the employees, and if employees aren't present, they're at home eating bonbons and playing with their kids or taking naps."

Ms. Fell said that runs counter to research that has shown telecommuters are more productive and often work more hours than their office-tethered counterparts.

Despite the 59 per cent of survey respondents who said they did not care as much about work post-baby, some 38 per cent said that being mothers actually made them better employees.

"Some of our best and most efficient staff are working moms. They want to get in and get the job done. They don't want to sit and complain or get involved in office gossip," Ms. Roney said of staff at TheBump.com.

That was the case for Carla Young, a Calgary copy writer who worked from home after the birth of her daughter in 2005.

"My daughter would go down for a nap, and two seconds later I was at my desk writing," Ms. Young said. "I didn't have to fuss around with child care and getting her ready. I didn't have to get myself dolled up and get into the dry-clean-only clothes, which I'd probably have to change because my daughter was a very spit-uppy baby. I could walk across the hall and have the baby monitor and work. These were power work sessions."

Last year, Ms. Young launched momeocommunity.com, an online resource for mom entrepreneurs.

She's found that many women returning to work also view telecommuting as a more desirable option than part-time hours because employers often "change expectations," scheduling meetings outside of that time frame.

Recently, Ms. Young has seen many mothers opt for freelancing and contracts that compensate them for the job done, not the hours: "They're not paying you to occupy a desk - they're paying for results."

Although the survey highlights some pervasive malaise - 59 per cent of the mothers polled thought babies had a negative impact on women's careers - it also "reinforces stereotypes that hurt working mothers," said Jennifer Berdahl, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

"There is quite a bit of discrimination out there against working mothers that is unjustified. It's not based on their productivity or their skill. It's based on this assumption that they're distracted and unreliable and they can't do their work," Prof. Berdahl said.

She criticized the survey, pointing out there is no mention of the role of a partner, and that many of the women surveyed are in their 20s, "at the very beginning of their motherhood stage."

As for caring less post-baby, Prof. Berdahl said: "It could be a general phenomenon of someone who has a child - man or a woman - that it gives them a broader perspective on their lives and what matters to them. It may not affect their productivity."

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