How Pearson’s Phased Return to Work Policy Supports Wellbeing of Working Mums

For our women’s health month issue, I was fortunate to interview Anna Vikström Persson, Chief Human Resources Officer of Pearson about the global publishing leader’s unique return to work policy for mothers. Pearson’s approach has several aims, to help mums successfully ease back into the working environment, to attract female talent and to support working mothers in senior roles who can serve as role models for other women in the business.


What kind of return to work policy does Pearson have for mothers?

Over the last few years Pearson has worked hard to align our approach to women returning to work across our UK businesses. Globally we are committed to providing an environment in which people can succeed in their careers. We recognise the value of creating a gender diverse workforce whilst retaining and promoting talent.

In addition to an enhanced maternity and paternity package, Pearson offers a phased return for colleagues. They are entitled to return to work on 3/5ths of what their normal working hours were prior to maternity leave, for the first 8 weeks after returning, on full pay. The phased return has been implemented to enable individuals to ease back into the working environment.


What kind of impact do you think your return to work policy has had on the overall wellbeing of Pearson mums on staff?

We have a number of returning mothers who tell us the phased return has really helped with their transition back into the work environment. Not only did it help them personally adjust to a new working pattern but also with their child’s adjustment to their new childcare settings or arrangement. The phased return combined with our flexible working request allows mothers to negotiate an arrangement that works for their family and for Pearson.

It is also important to note that the policy is just one part of it. In 2018 we ran a programme called “Back To Work – A Conversation” that was supported by three Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for gender, disability and LGBT employees. The purpose of the programme was to use conversation to explore returning to work and to challenge stereotypes. Having open discussions and understanding that you’re not alone in how you feel about returning to work is incredibly important to the wellbeing of our colleagues.


What other ways do you support women returning to work?

Our ERG, WILL UK, has been instrumental in supporting returning working mothers. The online community provides practical support through discussions, blogs and conversations. This group has created a mentor programme specially designed to support working mothers return to work. The programme allows people to exchange experiences and offer support when it is needed most.

Topics such as pursuing career opportunities, work/life balance, getting back into managing and being managed, dealing with childcare and emergencies, building your confidence after a break and bringing your new skills into the workplace are just a few of the topics covered. Knowing you’re supported by a network of colleagues is a powerful way to build a safety net for our employees. We also have health and wellbeing communities which offer mindfulness webinars and advice. Every employee also has access to our Employee  Assistance Programme for any additional support they may feel they need.

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How do you think COVID-19 will impact women returning to work?

Covid-19 presents many challenges for us all. For women returning to work it is particularly challenging as childcare settings are closed and many of us are working from home with our children. We hope our flexible approach to working from home and innovative use of technology eases the burden on our colleagues during these challenging times. Pearson has also created materials to help working parents and managers with their wellbeing and mental health.


Do you think your return to work policy has helped with recruitment of strong female talent and retention levels of moms after they’ve returned?

Creating a gender diverse workforce whilst retaining and promoting talent is a priority for Pearson. We can only do this if we support our colleagues at every stage of their career, including any extended time away from the workplace. We believe our enhanced maternity package attracts female talent. However it is also important that we lead by example, women need to see strong female role models to aspire to.

One such example is Sally Johnson, effective May 1st, Sally has taken on the role of Chief Financial Officer. Sally joined Pearson in 2000 she has 20 years of experience and is a mum of three. We’re incredibly proud to be able to appoint someone internally with her credentials. We hope women at Pearson feel supported to grow as leaders and we will continue to work incredibly hard to support working parents across the company.

Anna Vikström Persson has over 23 years of international HR experience. She has led human resources teams for major global companies across a variety of business sectors, including telecommunications, manufacturing and engineering. Anna joined Pearson in February 2018 as Chief Human Resources Officer. Previously to Pearson, Anna served as executive vice president and head of group human resources for the global engineering company Sandvik, and similarly for SSAB, a global steel company. In each organisation, she helped drive company-wide transformation programmes, developing strong corporate values with a focus on diversity. Anna is a mother and lives and works between Sweden and the UK.


About the author

Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather’s worked for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind, where she led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces about mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.


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