Returning from parental leave is a challenging transition. New mothers face an emotional rollercoaster getting back into the swing of work while trying to be the best parents. We have new schedules and priorities and in some ways, a new identity. We may feel anxious, guilty or overwhelmed. I’ve had two spells of maternity leave at Healy Hunt and I have felt all these things but having a supportive employer can really make a difference. Maternity leave can be very disruptive to women’s careers, though, so I want to share my tips for managing yourself and your employer.
Planning for Success
You may have checked in a few times or visited the office, but you won’t know how you will feel until the time comes for the actual return. My advice is to make flexible plans so that you can manage the unknowns while providing as much certainty as possible for yourself, your family and your employer. To do this, you need to be ready for your first day back. Hybrid working may provide some flexibility but wherever you are, your work demands separation from home life. Make sure you have practised handing over to the nursery, nanny or relative before your first day back; tears on the first day are inevitable! Practise the commute too. This may sound like overkill but it won’t be the same as it was pre-baby; part of the challenge is getting another little person or people ready and getting out of the door on time. Starting back midweek will help you to do all of this without overloading yourself.
If you have the option, decide upfront about whether you go back part-time or full-time. A part-time start can help you to readjust, set priorities and adapt to the new work, life, and childcare balance. Unfortunately, it can also send out a message, however unfairly, that leads people to treat you less seriously in a professional context. This is where management support and clear communication can help and make sure you avoid this. Either way, ensure that your schedule is as predictable as possible.
Diary a One-to-One with Your Manager
Don’t have this chat on your first day back but do put it in the calendar. Your emotions may be all over the place for a while and it will take some time until you find your new rhythm. Take ownership of your situation. Explain that despite the changes in your life, you are fully committed to the role and the company. Explain the responsibilities that you want to pick up and identify any projects or initiatives you want to be involved in. There may be some things that are now impossible for you, such as an impromptu 8 a.m. breakfast meeting, but explaining the reasons why (the nursery doesn’t open until 8 a.m.) and setting this out early, will educate your colleagues about your new responsibilities. Involve the manager in the success of your reintegration, ask them for advice and identify where you can make the biggest impact from their perspective.
Think about your strengths and your professional identity. Can you still operate as you’ve always done, or would it be unrealistic in terms of hours, travel, evenings out etc? Think about how you can use your experience and skills to delegate, mentor and facilitate others without doing everything yourself. Become as efficient as you can and place a high value on your time. Be selective about the meetings and events you attend. Other people will value your time too.
Manage your Colleagues’ Expectations
These changes need to be understood by your colleagues. Don’t wing it. You know your new responsibilities and non-work timetable so set boundaries that are understood by all. If you need to be away at 5 p.m. on the dot, then block it out in the shared calendar and make sure people know. This isn’t a weakness; it’s a chance to be assertively organised. Your colleagues will soon understand how and when to work with you.
Seek Out Support
After a couple of days back, you may be wracked with self-doubt but this isn’t unusual and it will pass. In the heat of the moment, it helps to hear from people who have been through it, whether that be colleagues, friends or an NCT group, it is worth seeking support from other parents within your network. Healy Hunt are partners with Women in Banking and Finance, and as part of this partnership we have access to many resources including webinars on managing the journey of parenthood whilst working – listening to other people’s journeys has been such a great tool for me when I’ve felt overwhelmed.
Luckily, I am the Operations Director at Healy Hunt so I have made sure that things run smoothly for returning parents and I’m very organised! My returns went well because I had excellent cover (thanks Donna) and I was able to pick up my career where I left off. This included a long-planned promotion that was timed so that I could fully commit to my new responsibilities. I am very grateful to have an employer that has supported me in both my professional and personal life and continues to do so.
Women’s lives have pressure points like pregnancy and menopause that can see talented people abandoning their careers, not to mention the ongoing challenges of parenthood. I am passionate about women making it through to senior roles and I am proud to work with Healy Hunt as we support our clients’ diversity initiatives.