It’s time. Even if you love your job, going back to work after maternity leave can be daunting.
We have all been there. After months of PJ days, development checks and broken sleep, we are digging through the wardrobe to find something “smart” and setting our alarm to get back to work.
As a return to work coach, I have coached myself back to work twice; the second time I found it especially hard and found my own coach to help me get my mojo back.
If you are getting back into the swing of things or thinking ahead, I wanted to share with you the best ways to have a positive return to work.
Change: Expect it, it is normal!
The change in mind-set starts from the second you know you are pregnant; or even before! Another big shift occurs when you are returning to work. The feelings you will work through can be compared to the feelings that occur through the grieving process: Denial, Blame, Anger, Uncertainty, Acceptance and finally Planning! Understand these feeling are normal and are not a reflection of your commitment or capability.
Respect the emotions you are feeling and talk! Talk to colleagues and friends – local parenting groups, online and other parents at your workplace. Identify the areas that are causing you concern and start researching. Be in control.
You will want and need time to settle back in
The impact of the return to work can be longer reaching and wider than the first few weeks. The practical elements of your return (such as getting back into your computer!) are not the only thing that should be considered.
Give yourself a “maternity return induction” to settle back in; reconnect with your team, department and your colleagues. Don’t expect to sit down and just pick up where you left off. Reflect on when you had your last holiday. I expect you had updates with the team, caught up with emails and read meeting minutes. Maternity leave is time away – regardless of the reason (by no means a “holiday”!) but the concept is the same. No question is a stupid question, get the clarity that you need. What do you need to feel informed?
Don’t make assumptions about yourself or each other
The “you” returning is a different person to the “you” that left. What you want out of you career and personal development may have changed.
If you have come back on a different working pattern, don’t be apologetic about it. Be clear in your communication around working patterns and your availability through your email sign off and face to face updates.
Verbalise and set your career goals with your Manager
Don’t wait until your annual review or appraisal to set goals; get these in place as soon as you can when you return. It will provide you with focus and direction. Make it clear to your manager and colleagues (and yourself) what you want career-wise and how you will achieve it.
Be open and honest about what is achievable within the hours that you work; don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself if you have moved to a part-time role or you can’t be as flexible with working “overtime”.
Consider what you have learnt about yourself in the time you have been away and be clear about what you need to do your job. This could be simply refreshing your IT skills or to improve your confidence in public speaking. The skills you have are still there, just a bit rusty!
Parental Leave: Understand and start the discussions early. Use KIT days
The earlier the better for this point. Ideally, before you leave for your maternity leave! Get your hands on the company policies including KIT (Keep In Touch) Days and Flexible Working Requests. Understand them and how they apply to your individual circumstances.
If you are looking to change your hours, via a Flexible Working Request, make sure you have a compromise position and ideally speak to your Manager before you return. Remember, it’s a two-way discussion process. If a decision can’t be made, suggest a trial process, maybe using any accrued holiday you have. During this, you could uncover and make recommendations around efficencies or process changes.
Don’t forget your “Keep In Touch” days! I personally didn’t take these and regretted it. They are a great chance to stagger your return to work, get up to speed with colleagues and the job, without it impacting your maternity leave. It also gives a financial boost at the end of your unpaid leave period!
Communication: It underpins all of these points!
Share experiences and perspectives; connect with colleagues who you feel you can confide in. Engage with the mentor programme or a coach if you don’t have a sympathetic or supportive ear!
The only thing I want you to remember from all of this, is regardless of how you feel now, it is okay. You may be excited, anxious, or scared. It is YOUR life, your family situation and your choice. No judgement.
About Clara Wilcox
Clara runs The Balance Collective. She is a mum of two with over a decade’s experience in recruitment and coaching. She offers career and return to work coaching for parents and flexible working consultancy and workshops for businesses. Find out more on The Balance Collective website or find Clara on Facebook, Twitter or connect with on LinkedIn!