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Labour Pains: Navigating Maternity Leave in Architecture & Interior Design

Couple holding tiny sneakers

The Architecture and Interior Design industries are known for their commitment to long hours above the norm, so maternity leave can be an anxious topic. Whether we like it or not, many women face stigma surrounding their value as an employee once they have children, and fear their positions will no longer be available when they’re ready to return to work.

Further to this, the ability to actually return to work in the same capacity, you know full time with cocktails after work, pulling all-nighters, interstate travel at the drop of a hat etc … simply isn’t possible. Priorities change after giving birth to a child, and work must co-exist with new responsibilities at home.

 

First things first

Parental leave is an entitlement with guaranteed rights that protect your circumstances, but it’s an aspect of work that few look into until they actually need to take leave for childbirth or adoption. So, let’s start by confirming what employment authorities regard as maternity leave, and explore some options to maintain a presence in the practice while off work.

 

Maternity and Parental Leave

All employees in the industry are entitled to parental leave, in line with the best practice guidelines of the Fair Work Ombudsman.  However, you should be aware of the different options out there.

Unpaid Parental Leave

Entitlements permit up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave when an employee or their spouse gives birth, or adopts a child under the age of 16. With notice an additional period of unpaid leave can be requested for up to 12 months duration.

Paid Parental Leave

The Paid Parental Leave scheme was introduced in 2011, and since, eligible employees have enjoyed 18 weeks of government funded leave for the care of a new child. As a supplementary policy, the Dad and Partner Pay Scheme funds two weeks of paid leave to fathers and partners when a child is born or adopted, though certain eligibility requirements must be met.

Eligibility is determined by the Department of Human Services, and Centrelink administer both schemes. Benefits awarded under the Paid Parental Leave scheme are funded to the employer who then pays the employee as part of their usual wage cycle. In the case of the Dad and Partner Pay Scheme, Centrelink deposits the award directly into the employee’s account.

 

What can you do prior to commencing maternity leave??

Not everyone wants to come back to work in the same capacity, or even knows what they will want to do once the decision to return to work is made.. Nevertheless, preparation is the key, so here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • If you are thinking about taking up the reins again, consider what capacity you might be able to return in.
  • Have that conversation with your employer – will there still be a role to return to?
  • Ask the question – know if you wish to return to the same role and its responsibilities, or if you’re interested in a different role that is more suited to your new circumstances?
  • Consider your child-care options. If you forward-think you will be able to generate a more realistic view of what your ‘return to work’ may look like. Think about professional services, or if your family assist you? Will your partner also be taking time-off? How do you balance everything?
  • Finally, you need to be honest about your new circumstances and how that relates to the role that you can realistically take on? Everyone will have different limits and requirements based on their own circumstances. You also need to be mindful of what your practice’s requirements will be as you return, as they may change while you are on maternity leave due to market and business circumstances.

 

Returning To Work

Woman working on the computer

So, let’s say you can’t wait to get back to work, or your bank balance can’t wait. A lot can change in a year. From staff leaving, clients opening and closing accounts, and shifts in practice direction, it’s so important to remain informed and relevant while on parental leave where possible.

In a highly competitive industry, women on parental leave can employ a number of strategies to ensure they’re on the top of their game when they return to the practice.

Check In

There’s no harm in sending a friendly email to your colleagues for an update on a project, popping into the office in person to keep in touch with the team, or checking in with a client to address any concerns they might have. It will keep you informed about the status of any projects you left unfinished, and ensure that you maintain the relationships you’ve built with your clientele.

You’ll also remain privy to any changes in policy, direction or staffing, and facilitate a smoother transition back to work when your leave ends.

Stay Up To Date

Take half an hour each day to read up on what’s changing in the industry, and perhaps take a look at a market update if you’re considering changing jobs after your leave ends. You’ll be in a much better position to contribute to discussions and planning when you return to work, and won’t need to be briefed on the fundamental causes for a change in direction.

Thank Your Colleagues

Hands shaking on a chalkboard

At every practice, there will be colleagues within your team that you’ll gel with, compete with and others that may cause you some trouble.

Remember that while you’re away it may be up to these colleagues to handle your projects, and manage your duties. When you check in, be sure to thank them for their efforts. It will go a long way to smoothing over any pointed tongues who might feel like they’re stuck doing your job while you “relax” at home (Ha! As if!).

Excuse their ignorance, particularly if they have no children of their own.

 

Some Final Thoughts For Employees:

Before we let you take your leave, consider these final thoughts as you plan your post-maternity leave strategy:

Be Realistic

If you do return – say to a role that has less involvement, maybe you will need to realise you’ll be taking a cut to your paycheck due to your reduced responsibilities

Of course, not everyone will be able to return to the same workplace, due to a number of reasons, so you can consider contracting, or temporary work placements instead – this can give you greater flexibility and in an industry that is so project dependent, it could work in your favor.

Not all studios will have the best structure in place – larger studios may due to their longevity in the market and well-developed processes, whereas smaller emerging boutique studios may not be in the same position in regards to offering you exactly what you want – in all instances, communication is key.

 

Some Final Thoughts For Employers:

In an industry where good people can be hard to find, there can be significant benefits to taking on a returning to work parent:

  • If they go to part-time, part-timers can be more organised because they have limited time to complete their tasks – and they have responsibilities at home, so they will be less likely to procrastinate and operate efficiently in order to leave on time.
  • Great talent that might not normally be available is suddenly an option for the flexible employer.
  • Contract options can be a good opportunity for a returning to work parent to test the waters and fill a gap on an urgent project need.

We also have some advice to help you be as supportive and transparent an employer as possible:

  • Communicate with employees so you can set realistic expectations, and forward-plan for their post-maternity leave role.
  • If your practice is like many others in Architecture and Interior Design, driven by workflow, it is important to note that, and we quote Fair Work Australia here:
  • Finally, to quote Fair Work Australia, the legal authority on the subject:

“It is important to remember that an employee returning from parental leave is legally entitled to return to the same job they held prior to going on leave. If that job no longer exists, they are legally entitled to return to an available position for which they are qualified and suited, which is nearest in status and pay to their pre-parental leave position.”

Return To Work With Confidence

Keep in mind that this is your time off to enjoy being at home with the family. Stay up to date with what’s happening at work, but don’t let work be your overriding concern. Once your period of leave is up, return to work with the confidence that you can step back into your role – be it part time or full time – and take on new responsibilities alongside the old.

For more information regarding parental leave and returning to work, please contact the friendly team at Bloomfield Tremayne & Partners.

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