Maybe it’s just me and I’m incredibly slack. I really didn’t give an awful lot of thought to my return to work transition when I was off on maternity leave. Looking back I was definitely looking through the world with rose-tinted glasses. I absolutely, one hundred percent loved the job I was doing at the time, I also reported to two very different managers, with whom I had a very positive working relationship. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to go back after my maternity leave and I just assumed it would be plain sailing based on my previous working experience.
This was NOT the case, and you would think I would have been more prepared. I sat in a role as a part of the wider HR team and I had also started researching parental transition within the business, and had been exposed to some shocking statistics on the number of women that didn’t return to the business after maternity leave. However, I was there imagining that could never be me (the idea of not returning to work would be too much for me).
On reflection here are a few key topics that would have been helpful in the planning process when returning to work and I would suggest starting this process at least 3 months in advance of your return.
Getting organised seems like an obvious place to start when you are living in the day-to-day of new motherhood. It’s easy to spend a large chunk of time responding to the immediate needs of your tiny person and the household. I don’t know about you but I do my best thinking outside of the house, a good place to start is on a walk while your little one is asleep, or even better, schedule some time alone and grab yourself an hour or two in a coffee shop with a notebook and pen.
Who is going to look after your tiny person when you return to work? This is probably the most daunting aspect of returning to work (apart from walking back into the office after your leave) and its’ worth giving a good chunk of thought. This is one of the main reasons it will serve you well to start your planning sooner than later. Waitlists for childcare can be very long, It can be a nightmare. Furthermore, I had been warned by friends that the whole daycare and waitlist process is harder than getting into VIP at the Met Gala. I had Elijah on lists for daycare before we had even returned to Australia from the UK. We still didn’t get our first choice, however, we were lucky enough to find somewhere else we loved just as much. Every child is different and will transition into their childcare routine at a different pace. If your child is going to daycare rather than being looked after by a known family member, put them into daycare earlier than you planned return to work, for 1 or 2 days to give them ample time to adjust to the new experience and routine. Elijah went into daycare 2 days a week, almost 3 months prior to my return to work. It also gave me some breathing space to actually start planning out the next few months and some well-deserved alone time, all mamma’s need.
How do you want to return to work? Are you planning on going back full-time or part-time? And if part-time what does that look like for you.
Depending on your intention to go back either full-time or part-time looking at your household budget is a must. It’s great to get all excited about going back to work and earning an income again, however, there are a lot more financial considerations. Especially if you are going down the childcare route, and form some families once you crunch the numbers, going back to work may leave you worse off financially.
Isn’t it hard enough to get all the household chores done when you are at home and looking after said small human. It only gets more challenging once you go back to work. Not only will you have less time at home to organise food shopping, cooking, laundry, and cleaning but (if you are like me) your weekends will become sacred, and you’ll want to spend quality time with the family and get some downtime. It’s a good idea to chat to your partner about how to split the household chores and outsource where you can.
Life is for living not piles of washing…
(often referred to as Parental Transition) is a great resource to have, and many organisations offer it to their employees. Speak to your Manager and see if they offer maternity coaching, if they do not see if they would be willing to offer it to you as a part of your professional development. If you have no luck with your organisations organinsing and paying for this service, you can always do this privately. Maternity coaching normally runs over 2-3 sessions, with an independent coach who can support you through the entire return to work process. This can be very useful if you are finding it hard to focus your thoughts or find the time to get started planning. It is usual to have an initial session for planning your return to work, a follow-up session just before your start back and a final session a month into your return. Maternity coaching is a great way to get all of your thoughts out of your head and soundboard with your coach, set some goals for the months ahead, keep you accountable and get clear on your plan and expectations to present and discuss with your manager.
Keeping in touch days (KIT days) are a great way to stay connected to your organisation and team during your maternity leave. Many organisations offer KIT days as a part of their maternity policy and the days can be used to come in for team meetings, strategy days, training and catching up with your manager. KIT days are normally paid at your normal rate and are good to have up your sleave if you are in the unpaid period of your maternity leave. I would always suggest keeping at least 3 of your KIT days for your return to work conversations with your manager. You can often also use them for maternity coaching sessions. KIT days’ work differently organisation to organisation, however it is usual to offer 10 of these days as a part of a maternity package.
I have to say my return to work experience was more than lacking and the reasons why, was due to sheer lack of communication from my line manager. I’m a very proactive person and had gone through the process of organising and settling Elijah at daycare, working with a maternity coach on what I wanted to achieve on my return and any issues that were causing anxiety. I tried to organise a call with my manager on a number of occasions and for over a month was met with absolute silence, not even and acknowledgement of that my email had been received, let alone a quick note to say I’m up to my eyeball but will organise a time to come back to within this amount of time. The rose-tinted spectacles feel off quick swiftly, and even more so because I had actually been approached to come back early by my manager only to receive radio silence nearer the date.
I continued to make contact via email over the following weeks (as we were in different time zones) and eventual, after having to be very direct received a response and a start date. I was going in to work at the Sydney office after transferring from London and would need a new employment contract. Still no phone conversation. A few weeks after I received that email response, I opened the mail and had been sent a new contract. As I reviewed it in disbelief, I couldn’t believe there had been no discussion on how I wanted to return to work or what working hours I would need. It was as if they had forgotten that I had actually been on maternity leave and not just on an extended holiday.
I can’t even say what went through my mind when I got to the section on working hours, Monday – Friday, 9.00am – 5.30pm. Hello, I was a new mother with a partner whose work takes him overseas on a weekly basis and the assumption was, I would just come back to work standard hours. Before I left on maternity leave I had discussed a four day working week and working from home options, these options were not an option. There was absolutely no consultation or conversation on options for staggered return to work, or part-time working. Only you will know what working pattern will work for you, and if you can review your workload and come armed to the conversation with how you envision to manage it, will stand you in good stead for negotiating your working pattern.
Again, research suggests that most managers are completely unprepared for these types of meetings. So get organised, know what you want and articulate it directly and be prepared to negotiate days, times and trial periods.
Organisations are notoriously bad at supporting parents back into the workplace and their roles. Research suggests that the issues occur at manager level, managers just don’t know how to navigate these types of discussions and don’t prepare in advance for return to work meetings. Ultimately the key to a smooth transition back into the workplace requires you to know what you want and be bold enough to articulate it.
If Maternity coaching is something you would like to explore, email me to book in a free 15min call with me and we can see if it would be a good fit for you.
You can also download the Boss Mamma Checklist to assist you in your transition back to work.