Maternity leave is one of the greatest potential threats to an organisation's talent bank. A valued employee could be absent for up to a year, return for a few months and then quit, either because they have returned to a pressured role that is a threat to their work-life balance, or because they have taken a lower-profile job and feel dissatisfied with being stuck on the 'mummy track'.
So how can employers stem this type of attrition, which could be an extra pressure at times of recession?
Many are turning to maternity coaching, which is deployed before, during and after the period of leave, and is increasingly seen as the answer to holding on to female returners.
Maternity coach Joy Bussell, who works for the Executive Coaching consultancy, says that offering such coaching can demonstrate that having babies need not damage career prospects.
"Women returners feel the need to validate themselves," says Bussell. "They are keen to show they have an important contribution to make."
Bussell says that the typical period of discontent for new mothers is between 12 and 24 months after they return to work. But maternity coaching can help an employee to understand what she wants from work and how to ask for it.
Nosheen Somaia, HR manager at law firm Allen & Overy, agrees, and says that maternity coaching can be invaluable.
Somaia should know. She received a series of maternity coaching interventions between 2006 and 2008.The first was held four weeks before Somaia finished work, with the aim of helping her to organise her departure.
"The coach covered the handover for my job, with subjects such as who was going to do what, and when was the cut-off point," she says. "This was helpful because I had only been focusing on the day-to-day activities."
Somaia refused the option of coaching while she was on maternity leave because she didn't know if she wanted to come back, but then took up an offer six weeks after her return.
"This session covered the practicalities of adjusting to work and of other people's perceptions," she says. Somaia found this useful because it allowed her to talk at a ti