The essential career advice to help you manage your transition back to work from Maternity Leave effectively.
This article was first published in October 2017 and updated in October 2020 for our Conscious Transition Series.
Are you going back to work soon or have recently gone back to work after your maternity leave?
Some mums find themselves dreading it. Some look forward to getting their brain back in action and being able to take a coffee or lunch in peace. Most are a combination of both with a bit of self-doubt thrown in… Can I still do my job? (Yes, you can) Will I be able to manage? (Yes, you will).
It can be a challenging time but by actively managing that transition back to work and being clear about your priorities – at work and at home – you can set yourself up to succeed in this new phase, whether it’s your first or subsequent baby.
Many women that come through our Back to Work Programmes struggle to reconcile the ambitious, driven, hard-working person they were before baby with the new still hard-working and committed person that they are now but with different priorities. They find it hard to figure out how they can still get the job done and wonder if their colleagues and boss are thinking the same.
The truth is that it is hard. Managing and figuring out this phase is challenging. That’s why grounding yourself with clarity and owning this transition is critical. It’s about setting clear objectives, having real conversations at work and at home and working smarter, not harder.
At work some of these things will be important to consider…
It’s important to communicate clearly about your expectations and understand the expectations of you. Many women feel that there is a perception that they’re less committed to the job now that they have children. Don’t let it be the elephant in the room. If you’re still driving your career forward, make sure that your manager and colleagues know that. And if you would prefer performance objectives that are not as big of a stretch for maybe six months, talk about that too.
Look for Interesting Opportunities
Being a mum doesn’t have to mean playing it safe and restricting opportunities. Make it known that you’re interested in new projects. What are the emerging trends impacting your business? There’s no better way to be seen than by getting involved with projects that matter to the leadership team. Having to leave the office on time every day does not mean having to play it safe. Bring your best self and all of yourself while you’re at work.
Raise Your Profile
Know that it’s not enough to put your head down and get the job done any more. Don’t wait to get the recognition and reward that you feel you deserve, based on someone else noticing the work you’re doing. It’s up to you to own and raise your profile, seek exposure, talk to the decision-makers and influencers and make sure that people know about your successes and the value you’re delivering.
Set and Manage Boundaries
Managing the transition may mean changing the way you work and it’s up to you to manage those conversations. It’ll mean being assertive and clear about re-organising meetings. If someone organises a meeting at 5p.m. that you can’t make, request a different time. Soon they’ll get used to your hours and (hopefully) will stop requesting late meetings. It’s about performance and not about the hours that you work. Hold your head high as you set new boundaries that work for you and the business.
Out of Hours Work – Choose Your Mindset
This is a contentious one. Among the many women I work with, opinions are divided. Some resent and resist having to log on and check e-mails in the evenings. Others recognise that logging on and catching up in the evening makes leaving the office at 5p.m. workable. Many say that they feel less stressed and more in control by spending some time at night ‘getting ahead’ for the next day. It’s about making your choices and accepting the impact. If you work in an industry where 9 to 5 is not the norm, figure out what’s going to work best for you. And own it. Remember it’s not just working mums who are looking for flexible working arrangements. Millenials are pushing hard on this agenda too. And often, they don’t mind working over the weekend if it means working the hours that work for them during the week.
Have the Crucial Conversations
A crucial conversation is one that is typically avoided as it can be emotional and the stakes are high. Find the courage to have that conversation, whatever it is. Prepare by bringing facts, options, solutions, a win-win scenario and an understanding of the other person’s viewpoint. The win has to be there for you and work for your manager and the business too.
And At Home…
What’s going to help your life run more smoothly at home so that you don’t feel rushed, chaotic and overwhelmed? Many women that I work with find themselves trying to do it all and in a way feel that they have to prove to themselves and others that they can do it all so…
Share the responsibilities between you and your partner. If it doesn’t seem balanced, that’s a conversation that needs to happen to make sure that the jobs and life admin are shared. You don’t need to be Superwoman or prove to the world and yourself that you can do ‘everything’.
What’s really important and even critical to you? What can you let go of? Know that good is good enough. What is tidy enough? What can be less than perfect? What can wait until next week?
What can you get someone else to do? If it’s an option, invest in a cleaner, even for a couple of hours per week. When you’re at home at the weekend, think about how you want to spend your time and how much time is spent on errands and cleaning. It’s not an option for everyone but if it’s an option for you – don’t put it off. Another thing to outsource is shopping. If you don’t do this already, it takes a bit of time to set up – but when you’re up and running it will save you a couple of hours, a bit of stress and maybe even avoid arguments. What else can you get someone else to do?
Be prepared as much as possible. For some, this comes naturally and for others it’s a real challenge but laying out clothes the night before, menu planning for the week ahead, preparing lunches and bags the night before, getting the morning routine up and running (based on shared responsibilities) is all going to help ease the logistical reality of being working parents. Lists, plans, and reminders will all become your best friends. And remember to divide it up.
Most Importantly, Look After Yourself
Be kind to yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after anyone else – kids, husband, house, your job. Know the two or three things that will help you re-charge. For mums working during the week, we often feel bad or just don’t have the chance to take time out at the weekend but it’s important not to relegate yourself to the bottom of the priority list.
While you’re being kind to yourself, let go of the guilt. It may be part of being a working mum but as long as you’re happy with your childcare and trust that you child is well cared for, try to focus on the decisions you’ve made and why you made them. Excessive guilt takes energy that we just don’t have. A little guilt means you love your child and it’s normal so try to accept it.
And finally, know that this is a phase. It’s a hard phase but it will pass. Own it. Own your choices. Taking the time to stop, reflect, re-focus and re-energise will help you set yourself up to succeed.
You might also be interested in reading about ‘Busting the Back to Work Myths‘.
Clearbird’s suite of Back to Work from Maternity Leave, New Parents and Inclusive Leadership Programmes support Diversity & Inclusion thinking and strategy.
We help females returning to the workplace to feel empowered, re-focused, confident and energised. We support new dads/parents who are also thinking about what this new phase means for them and enable this important conversations to take place. We support, guide and challenge managers in successfully managing these key life transition points – with an eye on retaining and developing female talent.
If organisationally and societally, we are serious about Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline and retaining and growing our female talent, supporting parents in this life transition, in managing the mid-career phase is critical to every organisation’s Diversity & Inclusion agenda.
Our sessions are incredibly effective in bridging the communication gap, bringing a wider perspective and providing practical strategies to enable the important and honest conversations.
Contact us to find out more about our Group Programmes and 1:1 Maternity Coaching Services.