Employers Can Retain Working Mothers by Offering More Work Schedule Autonomy

July 26, 2011
Yet another study suggests that flexible work schedules can improve an employee’s morale or sense of work-life balance. In this latest analysis, researchers reveal that employers are more likely to retain female employees who have just given birth by offering them greater flexibility and control in their work schedules.

Baylor University researchers discovered that employers may experience more turnover among new moms who face work-related physical or mental stress. But if these mothers are given more control and flexibility over their schedules, they’re more liable to stay on the job.

“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,” said Dawn S. Carlson, Ph.D., study author, professor of management and H. R. Gibson Chair of Organizational Development at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University.

According to 2008 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71 percent of women with children under the age of 18 were working or looking for work, and nearly 60 percent of women with young children were employed. Yet the transition back to work is pivotal for a new mother, and a large number of those who return to work after childbirth subsequently leave the labor force.

The Study

The researchers surveyed 179 full-time working mothers in North Carolina with an average age of 31 years. The majority, 79 percent, was married. They worked an average of 39.7 hours per week and planned on returning to work 30 or more hours by four months postpartum. The duration of maternity leave was 6 weeks, but only 48.1 percent reported having paid maternity leave. Among the new mothers, 40 percent reported that the recent birth was their first child.

Results suggest that employers may be able to promote beneficial outcomes through systematic attempts to increase the use of a working mom’s skills by cross-training her for multiple functions. Mental and physical health play an important role in retaining working mothers and deserve attention, such as through employee assistance programs, support systems or more integrative work-life initiatives, Carlson said.

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

The study was published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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