Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Postpartum return to work motivation

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Postpartum return to work motivation:
What motivates and what discourages postpartum return to work?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Case study (Spiteri & Xuereb, 2012)

Returning to work after just 14 weeks of paid maternity leave offered by the Maltese Government was described metaphorically by Ella as an uphill climb. At the beginning of the experience (during maternity leave prior to re-entry into the workforce) she was disheartened as she was seeing it as too demanding a task, but then the more she climbed the hill (the more she got used to her new routine), the more she started to view it as something that she could cope with. (p. 205)

To understand behaviour, one must look deeper to what is driving behaviour and giving it energy. This is commonly known as motivation: the processes that gives behaviour energy and direction (Reeve, 2015). Many theories exist to help understand and predict motivation or more broadly, ones actions (Hsu, 2016). There are four primary motivational sources;

  • Needs (growth, well-being and life),
  • Cognitions; Mental thoughts, actions and processes,
  • Emotions (emotions are what make certain goals more salient than others) and
  • External events (Mental health, Employment) (Reeve, 2015; Tamir et al., 2016)

Some of these sources of motivation will be discussed as well as some associated theories including; Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Self-concept, self-determination theory and intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation by determining the aim of the significant factors that influence postpartum return to work.

Figure 1: Stay at home Mum bathing her child.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

  1. Motivation: the processes that give behaviour energy and direction.
  2. Postpartum: a period of [what?] [vague] time following childbirth also referred to as postnatal. Perinatal refers to the periods immediately before and after birth.
  3. Maternity leave: A period of work leave taken by a woman to give birth. The time off work varies across countries and workplaces.
  4. Paternity leave: Refers to a period of time off work taken by a man for childbirth. Eligible working dads and partners get 2 weeks paid (minimum wage) leave. This includes same-sex partners. (Fair work Australia, 2016)

Prevalence, history and culture[edit | edit source]

In today's society womens roles have evolved from them previously only being considered as the primary care giver and home maker. Women have found a voice, become voters, become a part of the workforce, become politicians and at the same time many of them have retained a traditional role of becoming a mother. Men have also taken on many of the roles that were traditionally reserved for women such as being a stay at home parent. Postpartum return to work is worldwide and will only continue to rise over time with increasing means to do so (Tamir et al., 2016). With greater access to childcare, employers are more willing to accept mothers in the workforce as an employee (Macran et al., 1996)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Within Australia only, women currently make up 46.2 percent of the workforce (WGEA,2016). And 65 percent of Australian women aged 15 to 44 years gave birth in 2014 (AIHW, 2014). This demonstrates that for most mothers, fathers, children, employees and co-workers the choice of postpartum return to work would have some impact upon them. This is similar among all western countries, in America, 90 percent of women will fall pregnant whilst employed (Jones, 2016). But women still face prejudice and discrimination and there is still the need for improvement in the workforce to ensure mother's experience equal job opportunities and are protected from unfair treatment[where?].

Only 12% of American women have access to paid maternity leave[factual?]...

Men and women experience cultural expectations based on gender roles that impacts women returning to work. Some areas of[grammar?][grammar?] where differences are revealed include: who works, time spent with the child, childcare provided by a company or family, time off before returning to work (Hsu, 2016). For example, women in Australia are offered among the higher end of paid maternity leave (18 weeks) in the world. Compared with Malta, where mothers are entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave or even the US where paid maternity leave is not guaranteed, Australian working women may be considered very lucky (Spiteri, 2012). However, in the most recent comprehensive worldwide maternity leave survey (2014) European countries appeared to be leading the way with over double the amount of leave in Australia including the UK, Greece ad Bulgaria (The Telegraph, 2016)

If you and/or your partner are planning on having a baby, or if you are currently pregnant you may find the following information useful to educate your decision making. This quiz may also be useful in putting yourself into the shoes of a new mother [explain?] Quiz that is having a difficult time making the decision of is she should return to work or not. Quiz: Should you stay home or go back to work?

Motivation to have a child vs motivation to work[edit | edit source]

Maslow's hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

Behavioural motivation theories have been studied for [vague] decades, originally drawing from biological theories that studied behaviourism and psychodynamics during the 20th century (Mayer, Faber & Xu, 2007). [what?] Maslow described these biological theories and focused heavily on the physiological needs of humans arguing that this is what drove behaviour as a means of survival. Over time, in line with the emerging prevalence of psychology as a science, it was noticed that other significant factors had not been considered; social and psychological needs (Lester, Hvezda, Sullican & Plourde, 1983). It is now understood that humans are social animals and our behaviour can be explained through a combination of physiological and psychological[spelling?] factors. With this, Maslows hierarchy of needs as proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 provided a solid and easily understood concept for motivation (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). The concept is most accurately understood through a visual depiction, usually in the shape of a pyramid, to illustrate the hierarchy element (see Figure 2). Basic needs must first be met (e.g. food, water,sleep) as they are essential for survival, [grammar?] once this is secured humans are motivated to achieve more, usually the next progression would be safety. [grammar?] For growth to occur higher needs are fulfilled sequentially (love/belonging, esteem & Self-actualization) (Reeve, 2015). By evaluating the position of childbirth and employment in this pyramid it can help understand motivational factors and conflicting needs. Both childbirth and employment sit in the foundations of this theory as physiological and safety needs. Reproduction is essential for the survival of the human race, therefore explaining why sex is a basic need and driver (Cellar, Posig, Johnson & Janega,1993). Compared to employment which is listed in the category of safety but usually is a means of obtaining the other needs such as food, water, shelter etc (Physiological needs). By fulfilling people's reproductive needs [say what?] the individual will then seek further fulfillment. This may provide an explanation as to why mothers may be motivated to return to work.

Figure 2: Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid

Self-concept[edit | edit source]

Self-schemas: mental representations of oneself (Reeve, 2015).

Self schemas can produce motivation [awkward expression?]through two directions of behaviour (to be in line with self-schema, otherwise motivational tension from incongruence) and progressing the present self into the future self. If a woman sees herself as becoming a busy and successful mother and employee following pregnancy she will be motivated to progress with this image of her future self. Alternatively, if a woman falls pregnant whilst working and sees herself as a successful and dedicated mum staying at home, completing school runs she may in turn quit her job rather than commence maternity leave. External factors also need to be considered such as womens' financial ability to not return to work (later discussed). In support of this theory, once a self-schema is formed an individual will most often maintain this self-view (Markus, 1983.)

Hormones[edit | edit source]

Hormonal changes during pregnancy

Figure 3: Mother Breastfeeding her baby

Childbirth is an incredible human phenomenon both emotionally and physiologically and for those who have not experienced the process themselves may not be aware of the hormonal fluctuation during labor and birth[grammar?][Rewrite to improve clarity]. During pregnancy and following childbirth [what?] four central hormonal systems are active. Oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline (Epinephrine) and prolactin. Oxytocin is released not only during sex but also during childbirth and breastfeeding, which creates an underpinning bond between the mother and child (Lee et al, 2009). The table below explains the function of each of these hormones (Christin-Maitre, 2016).

Active hormones during birth
Hormone Function
Oxytocin Known as the love hormone, social engagement, supports the formation and maintenance of attachment bonds between people, cause contractions of the uterus
Endorphins A stress hormone, released to alleviate sadness and separation distress, inhibition of pain, anxiety and fear. induces feelings of pleasure and euphoria
Adrenaline (Epinephrine) Produce physiological changes, Arousal and alertness, support fight or flight stress reaction, increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and sweating
Prolactin Known as the mothering hormone, production of human milk, alleviate sadness and separation distress contribute to job, love, content, attraction, immune support

Females are programmed biologically to love, nurture and bond with their child as demonstrated through the hormones released during and following pregnancy. These natural forces of behaviour ensure a mother is motivated and dedicated to her child when it is most dependent on her. Over time, hormonal balance is restored and although a strong bond will usually remain between the child and mother, the overwhelming sensations experienced during labor will no longer exist (Christin-Maitre, 2016) allowing the mother to dedicate energy to things beyond just her child.

Personal growth and challenge[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

It seems people are intrinsically motivated to work not because of the money but because of internal drives such as cognitive stimulation, socialisation, personal growth and challenge[factual?]. This can be better understood with Ryan and Deci's (2000) self-determination theory.

Self-determination theory covers three psychological needs including autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy is the need to experience self-direction and independence in ones own behaviour (Reeve, 2015). Competence is the perceived effectiveness in interactions with the environment. Finally, relatedness is ones social connectedness and meaningful bonds with others. These three needs allow for growth and optimal functioning when met and in turn, explain an individuals extent of engagement with a task. As one would expect these three elements can be found through work, and if the appropriate support is provided by the employer (e.g. allows these needs to be met through work) one would be highly motivated to engage in work and return to work after childbirth)[factual?].

Self-determination at work (Deci, Connell & Ryan, 1989) is the experience of initiating and regulating ones own behaviours in the workplace. Free choice, autonomy have all been found to reach optimal intrinsic motivation (Brenning, 2015). If an employer provides autonomy support (the act of allowing or valuing free choice) a worker may have increased motivation to return to work. Intrinsic motivation represents the epitome of internal motivation, because behaviors are emitted out of pleasure and enjoyment (Brenning, 2015). Extensive research has been dedicated to intrinsic motivation and motivation to work (Best, 2001; De Long, 2011; Van Yperen, Wörtler, & De Jonge, 2016) with repeated findings of significant overlaps. In summary, if one engages in employment simply because of the material reward (extrinsic motivation), such as money, they would be more likely to delay or avoid a returning to work, or even seek new employment following parental leave. However if one enjoys the social, cognitive and physical aspects of work enjoyable and stimulating, challenging with an element of choice, their motivation to return to work would understandably be high as it would been seen as intrinsically motivating (Best, 2001).

Socialisation essential for human growth and can be understood similarly to relatedness (as part of self-determination theory). A primary condition that involved the relatedness need is social interaction. Interestingly, relatedness only doesn't work with strangers, need to elicit some element of warmth, care and mutual concern. This has been characterised as the same hormonal and bodily changes that are found in relatedness between family members and friends is not replicated with interactions with strangers (Reeve, 2015). Further research could be dedicated towards relatedness and childbirth, particularly with regard to motivation to have a child.

Financial considerations[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Childcare[edit | edit source]

The alternative to intrinsic motivation is extrinsic motivation which can be understood at the motivation to engage in a behaviour to result in some kind of external reward such as material gain or power (Otterbach et al. 2016). One form of Extrinsic motivation is External Regulation: If a behaviour is done it should result in a reward[vague][Rewrite to improve clarity]. For example, if you secure employment and complete your work, you should be rewarded with a wage. People who do not find enjoyment or purpose in their work may only be engaging in that behaviour for the material reward of money (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

It may be thought that money is a strong motivator, however studies have shown otherwise (Vansteenkiste et al., 2007) and found that it is an extrinsic motivator rather than an intrinsic one. Extrinsic motivators are not as strong, as it is not an internal desire. Finances are, however, a significant factor to consider in returning to work following childbirth and may be a strong motivator in the short term (De Long, 2011; Joesch, 1994).

A parent may return to work because they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to do so, in either case childcare is likely to be required and can be a significant cost, in some cases equalling a single wage (Lyness, 1999; Spiteri & Xuereb, 2016)[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Difficulties returning to work[edit | edit source]

Regardless of a woman's motivation to return to work after having a baby, there are factors that may hinder the process and plan that must be considered such as job insecurity, discrimination and mental health (Lim & Sng, 2006).

Stigma/discrimination[edit | edit source]

Differences in men's and women's roles in the birth and parenting have been cited as an important reason why women do not fare as well as men in the labour force (Joesch, 1994)[explain?]. Taken together, findings suggest that pregnant employees’ expectations about pregnancy discrimination play a role in shaping disclosure behaviours at work. (Jones, 2016)[Provide more detail].

The current labour market within Australia is good for mothers[factual?]. There are employers across all states offering part-time work and flexible work start and finish times[factual?]. Although discrimination does remain a real phenomenon in the workforce many employers work coherently with parents and offer realistic return to work options following maternity leave[factual?]. To protect your rights always aim to have a formal discussion with your employer prior to leave and wherever possible have agreements written and signed. Nevertheless it is beneficial in preparation by aiming to allow for some flexibility in case the unexpected occurs and by preparing for unpredictable complications that may effect[grammar?] the timing of your returning to work.

Postnatal depression[edit | edit source]

Postnatal depression is described as a period of depression following childbirth (PANDA, 2016). It is a common phenomenon that occurs across cultures and although experienced in ever 1 of 7 to 10 women in Australia, it is not widely understood or talked about[factual?]. Postnatal depression is understood to come about due to the overwhelming hormonal process of childbirth and the significant life change that comes with it. Postnatal depression can happen to mothers in any pregnancy whether it be their first, second or third. However, women who have previously suffered postpartum depression have a higher risk of developing it in future pregnancies[factual?]. Postnatal depression does not only effect mothers but everyone around them. Postnatal depression can be unexpected and delay plans of a return to work, however a woman's well-being should be the utmost priority following an event such as childbirth. It can be difficult to identify when a woman is suffering from postpartum depression. The best thing to do is to educate yourself and consult your general practitioner. Some useful information can be found at PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) and these factsheets can help you to further understand postnatal depression and anxiety.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Most of the human population today will have some interaction with childbirth and work. hey are inevitable experiences in human life. Although the experience will vary among cultures and over time, our basic human needs and motivation will continue to drive this behaviour. There are many factors influencing motivation to return to work after having a baby. Some factors drive a return to work like intrinsic satisfaction of work through cognitive and social benefits. Others discourage a return to work such as the self-concept of being a mother and expenses of childcare. A large contributor to behaviour is the needs of an individual so it is essential for each person to determine their own choices in having a baby and the extent of work.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Women are eligible for 18 weeks paid maternity leave in Australia


2 It is up to the Father to return to the work force first


3 Postnatal depression or anxiety usually only occurs with the first child.


4 Cognitive stimulation is a strong intrinsic motivator to return to work


See also[edit | edit source]

Employee motivation and money (Book Chapter)

Prenatal Depression (Book Chapter)

Stillbirth and Emotion (Book Chapter)

Work Motivation and Work Satisfaction (Book Chapter)

References[edit | edit source]

Anderson, E. (2016, March). Mapped: which two EU countries beat the UK for the best maternity package? TheTelegraph. Retrieved from

Bailyn, L., & Harrington, M. (2004). Redesigning work for work–family integration. Community, Work & Family7(2), 197-208.

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Best, R. G. (2001). Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment (Book Review). Personnel Psychology54(3), 763-765.

Brenning, K., Soenens, B., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2015). What’s your motivation to be pregnant? Relations between motives for parenthood and women’s prenatal functioning. Journal Of Family Psychology29(5), 755-765. doi:10.1037/fam0000110.

Cellar, D. F., Posig, M., Johnson, D., & Janega, D. (1993). Effects of Social Cues, Task Complexity, and Sex on Intrinsic Motivation and Task Perceptions: A Test of the Task-Instrumentality Hypothesis. Basic & Applied Social Psychology14(1), 87-102.

Christin-Maitre, S. (2016). Hormones and pregnancy: Many players in a very long trip. Ann Endocrinol (Paris), 77(2), 61-62. doi:10.1016/j.ando.2016.04.026.

De Long, L. I. (2011). An intergenerational study of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, as perceived by human resource professionals. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A71, 4585.

Deci, E. L., Connell, J. P., & Ryan, R. M. (1989). Self-determination in a work organization. Journal Of Applied Psychology74(4), 580-590. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.74.4.580.

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Jones, K. P. (2016). To Tell or Not to Tell? Examining the Role of Discrimination in the Pregnancy Disclosure Process at Work.Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology, doi:10.1037/ocp0000030.

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Lester, D., Hvezda, J., Sullivan, S., & Plourde, R. (1983). Maslow's hierarchy of needs and psychological health.Journal Of General Psychology109(1), 83.

Lim, V. G., & Sng, Q. S. (2006). Does parental job insecurity matter? Money anxiety, money motives, and work motivation. Journal Of Applied Psychology91(5), 1078-1087. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.5.1078.

Lyness, K. S., et al. (1999). Work and Pregnancy: Individual and Organizational Factors Influencing Organizational Commitment, Timing of Maternity Leave, and Return to Work. Sex Roles 41(7): 485-508.

Markus, H. (1983). Self-knowledge: An expected view. Journal of Personality, 51, 543–565.

Mayer,J. D., Faber, M. A., & Xu, X. (2007). Seventy-five years of motivation measures (1930-2005): A descriptive analysis. Motivation and Emotion, 31(1), 83-103.

Macran, S., Joshi, H., & Dex, S. (1996). Employment after Childbearing: A Survival Analysis. Work, Employment & Society, 10(2), 273-296. doi:10.1177/0950017096102004.

Niessen, C., Weseler, D., & Kostova, P. (2016). When and why do individuals craft their jobs? The role of individual motivation and work characteristics for job crafting. Human Relations69(6), 1287-1313. doi:10.1177/0018726715610642.

Otterbach, S., Tavener, M., Forder, P., Powers, J., Loxton, D., & Byles, J. (2016). The effect of motherhood and work on women's time pressure: A cohort analysis using the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Scand J Work Environ Health. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3590.

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion. New York: Wiley.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol, 55(1), 68-78.

Spiteri, G., & Xuereb, R. B. (2012). Going back to work after childbirth: women’s lived experiences. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 30(2), 201-216. doi:10.1080/02646838.2012.693153.

Tamir, M., Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., Riediger, M., Torres, C., Scollon, C., & ... Vishkin, A. (2016). Desired emotions across cultures: A value-based account. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology111(1), 67-82. doi:10.1037/pspp0000072.

Van Yperen, N. W., Wörtler, B., & De Jonge, K. M. (2016). Workers' intrinsic work motivation when job demands are high: The role of need for autonomy and perceived opportunity for blended working. Computers In Human Behavior,60179-184. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.068.

Vansteenkiste, M., Neyrinck, B., Niemiec, C. P., Soenens, B., De Witte, H., & Van den Broeck, A. (2007). On the relations among work value orientations, psychological need satisfaction and job outcomes: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 80, 251-277.

WGEA(Workplace Gender Equality Agency). (2016). Gender Workplace statistics at a glance. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]

Youtube: How to return to work after having a baby

Fairwork Australia: Returning to work from parental leave

Quiz: Should you stay home or go back to work?