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Talking Management

Transcript: Why workplace factors can have a psychological impact on mothers returning to work Add to ...

This Is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. I am delighted to speak to Jamie Ladge, from Northeastern University in Boston.

Jamie, you have studied the role of mothers and how it has evolved for a number of years now. What is your latest thinking? What is happening with mothers out there?

LADGE - What I have looked at is what impact, psychologically, it has on the mother to, for instance, come back to work and have colleagues say to them, “Oh, you are back full-time? You know, i am sure they will let you come back part-time, if you ask?”

And this mother is thinking, “Gee, - that wasn’t an option for me. That shouldn’t be assumed.” But there is an impact associated and what it does to the woman is say, “Gee, am I not a good mother because I have chosen to come back full-time and not part-time?”

And that was actually a real quote from a study that I had done where these interactions in the workplace when women come back to work after having a baby have an impact on how they think about themselves - not just as a professional but as a mother.

So you have an interesting dynamic where you can have workplace factors influence your non-workplace self and that is what can drive someone’s intentions to want to quit a job. Not feeling good as their role as a parent and not feeling good as their role as a professional.

MOORE – We would like to have flexible organizations so that a mother can choose full-time or part-time, or somewhere in between. What should an organization do to allow her that freedom but without pushing her in one direction?

LADGE - I think a lot of organizations try to put these policies in place but the problem with work/family policies is that they often tend to be a “one-size-fits-all” strategy and everybody has unique circumstances and situations.

It really comes down to their individual manager. Managers need to figure out how to be supportive, and not to just be aligned with any kind of organizational support but to really understand the challenges that mothers are facing.

I don’t know if there is some kind of training that can be done to understand some of the unique needs that people are going through - sensitivity around what people might be experiencing. Really, this goes for anyone who is coming back to an organization that might be struggling - whether it is someone who has an illness or who is coming back for some other reason.

So I think it is a little bit of the sensitivity. We are good at taking care of the overt bias, no one is going to come out and say, “Oh you are a mother now,” although some might do that, but being mindful of the covert.

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