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Kitted out for maternity leave


Mum's gone to work for a KIT day

Just because you’ve had a baby, it doesn’t mean you want to ditch work completely. Louise Druce looks at how KIT days can help mothers stay connected with the office.

Not all women want to sever ties with the company while on maternity leave, which is why ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days have proved a popular way of staying abreast of all the goings on in the office without sacrificing pay. But they are also proving a useful way to ease new mums back into the routine of working life through a network of support.

Before changes to the Work and Families Act came into force in April last year, new mums were faced with the stark option of having their maternity leave terminated if they wanted to juggle spending time with their child with working a couple of days in the office.

For those not ready to return to work, but who wanted to stay in contact with clients and colleagues, it was a less than ideal situation. It meant potentially missing out on key meetings or deals that could impact their role once they came back to the workplace, or simply feeling out of the loop.

“Policies are important but they only get you so far. In a large and diverse organisation, it is important to help employees with their individual needs.”

Carolanne Minashi, Citi

KIT days aim to redress the imbalance. Now, women on maternity leave are entitled to work 10 days, while still being paid, midway through statutory time off. So far, it has proved relatively easy-to-implement and has benefits all round.

“It is really straightforward,” says Jennifer Liston-Smith, director of Managing Maternity, which partners with organisations to promote better work-life balance for parents. “It enables women to take the maternity leave they need rather than coming back prematurely because they feel they are missing out. It also helps them to be remembered as a viable part of the workforce. They still have a presence.”

Now companies are going one step further by using KIT days to actively encourage working mums to return to work, something that has proved problematic in the past.

Finance group Citi is one such firm rolling out a project that dedicates one KIT day to structured training. Participants can discuss how their maternity leave is going and look at related topics such as childcare options, coping strategies and how they can re-integrate back into the team. It also features group coaching before, during and after maternity leave, with one-to-one telephone coaching available when they return to work.

“Many of the women who go on maternity leave have worked with the company for over 10 years,” says Carolanne Minashi, head of diversity for Citi’s marketing and banking division. “They have established their professional career by the time they have a baby and have a wealth of experience and talent we simply can’t afford to lose.

“Policies are important but they only get you so far. In a large and diverse organisation, it is important to help employees with their individual needs.”

Managing Maternity is developing a programme with a law firm, which is also looking at a similar scheme by dedicating a KIT day to a networking lunch where new mums can discuss any issues. It has more of a ‘buddying’ feel, rather than immersing participants in a day of coaching.

Sleepless nights over implementation

“KIT days enable women to take the maternity leave they need rather than coming back prematurely because they feel they are missing out.”

Jennifer Liston-Smith, Managing Maternity

However, some firms have seen KIT days in a less positive light. Liston-Smith puts this down, partially, to some managers not understanding how they should be implemented, believing women will only use them to come in and chat about their new arrival. All evidence points to the contrary. But she has also seen one instance in a large organisation where a worker was asked to use her KIT day to cover someone’s holiday leave.

Liston-Smith is quick to point out these firms are in the minority, though. “The companies using KIT days are using them in a natural way and not finding too many issues,” she adds.

Microsoft has taken the open communication approach to try to avoid any confusion over what KIT days are about. According to compensation, benefits and operations manager Mary Giles, the company has included a few lines in the maternity policy explaining what the days are designed for, how they can be used and the statutory obligations. An internal newsletter is also sent around the company informing staff of any key points or changes surrounding maternity leave. It is part of a whole raft of maternity benefits the company has in place.

The onus on actually arranging KIT days falls on the employee and their manager, who is then obligated to notify HR and payroll. But Giles emphasises the company takes into account the inconvenience for the employee and discourages any pressure on staff to take KIT days. “We explain it is entirely voluntary,” she says. “We recognise people want to do different things. Some people want a complete break; others are very career minded and want to keep a strong connection with the business.”

The sorts of things its employees are using KIT days for are training or large company meetings where there is an important business development, or crucial departmental get togethers. “Sometimes it’s something as simple as team morale,” Giles adds.

One of the most important aspects, says Liston-Smith, is using KIT days as a way to ease staff back into the workplace so they can hit the ground running when they return from maternity leave.

For example, they can help trial childcare arrangements or simply be used to familiarise the employee with being back in the work environment. “It is so they can remember who they are from a professional point of view as well as being a mum,” she says.

What’s in the KIT bag?

  • Introduced under Work and Families Act 2006, enforced from April 2007.
  • A voluntary arrangement between the company and employee.
  • KIT days are paid during maternity leave. Previously, leave would be terminated.
  • A maximum of 10 days can be worked without losing statutory maternity pay (SMP).
  • If you work for more than 10 days, you’ll lose one week of SMP for each week or part week worked.

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