So you've probably heard the phrase maternity returnships bandied about quite a lot as some kind of new buzz word. Google it and you'll see well known financial institutions and legal firms talking about their latest maternity relationship programme.

The term maternity returnships has been patented by Goldman Sachs, but what is it? It's about having a program specifically for women that have been on maternity leave to ease them back into the workplace.   This is because it's finally been recognised that when women take time out of the workplace to have a baby they face unique obstacles in terms of getting back into the workplace and workflow.

Large financial and legal firms were the first to adopt these formal maternity returnship programmes which is a step in the right direction for working mothers. However like with all schemes and programmes it's important to ensure that they are providing real value to both the mothers and employees and are not worn as a badge of honour. 

But where does that leave smaller firms? What can you do to support returning mothers. Formal maternity returnships, may not be the best course of action for you due to budget or staffing constraint so what  can you do instead?

Well, you can create your own in a smaller way that suits your business needs and business culture. And you don't have to call it a maternity returnship, It's bacically a Back to Work Plan. So what would go in this plan and what resources would you need?

KIT days – Make sure that you both understand what these are, are they paid and agree when they will happen and what will happen on those days

Phased return- This is a great way to ease someone back into work. Allow them to build up their hours within a specified time frame 9normally (1-2 months). This makes the transition much easier.

Agreed hours/flexible working – It's very likely that you will be asked for some form of flexible working. Make sure that you understand your flexible working policy and know what to do when you are asked. Always do this formally and  ensure that that you take all request seriously.

Communication – Agree in advance how you are going to communicate with your staff while they are off on maternity to keep them feeling part of the team and sort out their return to work. Don't assume that they do not want to be contacted and just wait for them to come back to work.

Mentoring/coaching – A lot of women say that this would be the biggest help to them in easing back into work. It's an anxious time full of new unknowns so having a coach or mentor to talk it over with helps to alleviate any stresses and identify any changes that would help. You could offer this through some kind of employee assistance programme or as a health benefit for your staff.

Breastfeeding support – Find out if they are breastfeeding and see what support you can offer if they are. They may need a provide room to pump breastmilk and space in the fridge to store their milk. Talk to your staff member to see what they need and work out a plan together.

Line management- Things may have changed while they were away on leave so make sure that they know who their line manager is ans that they are trained in in how to support maternity returners. It is well documented that this relationship is the one the has the biggest impact on the retention rate of maternity returners.

Project responsibility – Be clear on what their responsibilities will be when they return to work. It's inevitable that  things will have changed while they were on maternity leave, so make sure that they  know what is expected of them and how you will support them.

Training /re-training – We all get rusty in our skills, so this is a great opportunity to get re-trained or training in new skills that are now necessary for the job. Using KIT days to do training is a very popular idea.

Time and patience – It takes time to adjust to new routines and expectations. This goes for both employers and employees. Allowing time to figure out what works and what will help them to settle in better and will improve your retention rate.

There is a lot to think about, but once you have a template of the things you need to consider, then it makes it easier to manage each time.