When it comes to running a business, it can be hard enough to balance work and home life. But when you add a baby into the mix, it becomes even more difficult. Annie Button takes a look at the toughest challenges of taking maternity leave as an entrepreneur.
Taking maternity leave can be challenging for most mums, regardless of whether they are running their own business or an employee. In fact, many female entrepreneurs in the UK end up deciding to take very little maternity leave. In one report published on 2022’s International Women’s Day, 39% of the 800 female entrepreneurs questioned said there was an unconscious gender bias around maternity leave that warranted future change.
Some of the questions that a lot of entrepreneurial women currently have when it comes to taking maternity leave include:
- How do you choose when to return to work?
- Can you afford to take time off?
- How do you cover for yourself while you are on maternity leave?
- What do you do about work guilt?
- How do you prioritise self-care over the business?
It is perfectly normal to have concerns, especially when it comes to taking a break from your business. However, there are a few things that you can do to help you worry less so you can concentrate on your family more.
Maternity leave as an entrepreneur in the UK
Maternity leave in the UK is known as Statutory Maternity Leave (SML). It lasts for 39 weeks, and your employer must give it to you at the same rate of pay as your normal salary. You will also be entitled to Statutory Adoption Leave of up to 52 weeks, during which time you will receive the same pay as SML.
What are some challenges of taking maternity leave as an entrepreneur?
While all new parents must have access to SML and Adoption Leave, it can be challenging for entrepreneurs who rely on their businesses for income. The biggest challenge is keeping up with client commitments while on leave. As an entrepreneur, your clients must know about your pregnancy so they can be prepared when you go on leave – or even before then.
As an entrepreneur, you are your business. You’re the one who makes it happen, and if you’re taking time away from that, it can be a scary prospect. But don’t worry! There are lots of ways to make maternity leave easier for yourself and your business.
How will you cover for yourself?
This isn’t just about getting your work done; it’s also about making sure your clients understand what’s going on with their projects and that they don’t feel neglected or like they’re being abandoned.
Consider hiring someone else to take over some administrative tasks while you’re out so that when you get back there’s less work than usual waiting for you. Make sure you have good communication with all employees so they know what they’re doing and when they should be doing it. You can set up a project list for all employees so that they know what tasks need to be completed and when.
Can you afford to take time off?
For some women, maternity leave may mean losing money – and that’s not something that anyone should have to worry about when they’re trying to start a family! So be sure to consider how much time off you’ll need before making any plans.
The financial challenges associated with being self-employed can be daunting enough without having to worry about paying for childcare and other expenses when you return to work. To help make these challenges less stressful, consider setting up a savings account specifically for maternity leave expenses before you go on leave.
What kind of support system will you have?
It can help if there are other people around who can help out while you’re on maternity leave – whether it’s friends and family members who can pick up the slack or partners at work who can take over some tasks temporarily so that nothing falls through the cracks during this important time in your life.
How do you deal with work guilt?
Taking maternity leave when you own a business can be overwhelming. You have to take time off to adjust to motherhood and you can easily fall into the trap of worrying about the business while you’re away. At a time when your priorities are shifting, it’s a hard predicament to address and many women do return to work earlier because of the guilt they feel. In fact, according to one report, 40% of female business owners in the UK cited guilt as their number one reason for returning to work after only two weeks.
But, while it may be hard to resist a roller-coaster of emotions, taking a break from work when you run your own business can be rewarding. You’ll have the chance to bond with your newborn and experience the joys of being a new mum.
It’s important to prioritise self-care
When you’re worrying about your business and your newborn baby, looking after yourself can come last. However, it’s important to remember to take time for yourself and let yourself recover. By looking after yourself, you will be in a better place to look after your business and your baby.
Some ideas for self-care can include:
- Getting outside, exercising and enjoying nature
- Doing some relaxing yoga or mindful meditation
- Writing in a diary or catching up on your reading list
- Pampering yourself with a massage
- Enjoying time out with friends or family members
- Pencilling in important dental appointments and any delayed eye-care checks
- Organising a much-needed mani-pedi
Looking after your mind and body both during pregnancy and maternity leave can help you worry less, and free up headspace to deal with any work worries or guilt. You may be thinking, where can you find the time for self-care, but you only need to take 10 to 15 minutes a day for yourself to make a change.
How do you choose when to come back to work?
It’s tempting to try and get back into the swing of things as soon as possible, but for many entrepreneurs, it’s not that simple – especially since one of the main benefits of being self-employed is flexibility. Some big-name companies, such as Goldman Sachs, are creating a diverse and more flexible working environment to better support pregnant and high-flying females with childcare commitments in demanding leadership roles.
On one hand, you might want to return to work sooner than you’re physically able or mentally ready to make up for lost revenue (and more importantly, lost time). On the other hand, you might feel like you need more time out than your company can afford – which could lead to burnout if you rush back too soon.
When deciding how much time off to take, keep in mind that most women need around 6-8 weeks off from work after giving birth (and most men probably do too). This will give both parents enough time to bond with their new baby while still allowing each one of them enough time to get back into their routine at work without feeling like they’re falling behind on everything else!
So, take it slow and check in with yourself and your business every couple of weeks so you can reassess. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and do what is right for you, your business and most importantly your baby and family.