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The end of maternity leave - plan your way back to the workplace

If you are going back to work after maternity leave soon, then it’s time to really start thinking about how you want your new life to be as a working parent, and how you and your company see this working for both you and them.

One of the first things that you need to consider is your company’s approach and policies to working parents. A lot of companies have some great policies in place, but for some reason these policies don’t always filter down the chain or are blocked by managers that ignore these guidelines. This is sadly when the problems start to arise. So, before you do anything else, make sure you know what the corporate rules of your company are, and if you can, talk to other colleagues who have already been through the process. With this information you can then focus on how you can make these policies work for you. Hopefully, this last year and half has shown companies how flexible their staff can be and will bear this in mind when discussing your return to work.

Always keep in mind that this is your story, and you are the one living it, but also be mindful that it is imperative to your success, as a working parent, that you get your manager on board. So, as well as explaining to your manager how you would like things to be, it is also essential to ask them what they would like from you, so that you can make it work for all of you.

Ask them for advice and direction and be honest and realistic about what can be accomplished in your first few weeks and months back on the job. Also find out from your manager what is necessary right now versus what’s nice to have but can maybe be put off for a few months down the line.

A few things that I think are worth highlighting in your discussion are:

  • Recognising that your first few weeks back are going to be a little chaotic for you and the rest of the team, as you all get used to this new way of working, i.e., you need to be stricter on your time keeping; or perhaps your working hours are changing, and this may affect the rest of the team.

  • Warn them that you may be a little emotional. It can be tough leaving your baby with another person, particularly, if like many new parents at the moment, you have spent even more time together as a close family unit than you normally would because of the pandemic.

  • Let your manager know that there might be occasions when you are a little late, as you and your baby get used to this new routine. However, make sure that you are clear that your commitment to the job is a high as it was before you had children, you just need time to adapt.

  • Also, talk to your manager about what you need from them to help you make it a successful return for both you and them. For instance, is there a private space that you can go to express milk? What provisions will be put in place if you need to rush off early because your baby is ill? These are very common worries for new parents returning to work, so it is important to know what to expect beforehand.

  • Make sure that you bring up the projects that you would like to be considered for and the work travel that you are willing or not willing to do. Some managers may make assumptions that as a new parent you might not want challenging assignments, whereas others might want to test you and see how dedicated you really are to your job. So be prepared for all scenarios. Whatever the case, it is up to you to make sure that your manager is clear about the promotions you are expecting or the limits you are setting.

The other people whose needs you need to be sensitive to are your colleagues and your relationships with them. Hopefully you will have stayed in contact with some of them while you have been on maternity leave, but there are always the people that you work with, that you don’t socialise with, who may not understand you and the situation. This might be even more apparent now, as general office chat and conversation has been stilted because of working remotely.

So, before you start back let your colleagues know what your plans are:

  • Let people know the hours/ days that you will be working.

  • What time you will be arriving and leaving.

  • If you need to leave at 5pm on the dot, let people know, so that they don’t turn up at your desk at 4.59pm.

  • There will also be someone that wants your attention a couple of minutes before you need to leave, so put strategies in place to deal with this, so that they are not offended when you tell them that you can’t stay.

  • And remember things will change over time, as people get used to the new working you and start to adjust to your new regime.

One last area to think about is seeking the support of other working parents:

  • Join a mum and dad network, see if there is one at work, or find one online.

  • If you haven’t already, build connections with people in your area who have kids, who are in a similar situation to you.

  • See if your organisation has any resources to help new parents.

  • See advice from colleagues who have been through the same thing.

Remember not everything you want, or need, will happen, but if you at least start with a plan before you meet your manager, then you will be more confident in your discussions. With any luck between you both you will come to a happy compromise that suits you all.

Good luck! You’ve got this, but remember it is going to be tough at first, but each week it will get slightly easier and before you know it you will be flying again.

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