Returning to Work After Maternity Leave?

So you’ve spent some time away from the office to be with your baby and adjust to your new family. Meetings, business objectives, freedom and control over your life have all been replaced by nappies, sleepless nights and routine.

But suddenly the prospect of work is ahead of you and looming fast. If you’re lucky then your company may have a support system for you to help you return to work.

But either way, it’s good to get ahead of the curve and focus on some of the areas you can gain control of that will help you transition back into the world of work.

Apply Some Perspective

YOUR WORK COLLEAGUES REMEMBER YOU AS YOU WERE BEFORE YOU HAD YOUR BABY!

Here’s the thing. Your work colleagues, bosses, client groups and contacts remember you just as you were before you went on maternity leave. They haven’t seen you in your pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon or with your hair unwashed for days. They haven’t seen you in a sleep-deprived melt-down when your little bundle of joy is terrorising you with sleepless nights and crying like it will never end. They haven’t seen any of this.

All they remember is smart, professional, capable you. In truth, they probably remember that person better than you do yourself.

VALUE YOURSELF

You may be feeling a lack of confidence and often with lack of confidence come negative internal voices. You’ll be giving yourself a hard time. Not good enough at this, could be better at that, everyone at work will be all corporate and I’m feeling all at sea?

The harshest criticism of all will be of your own making. Listen to what you are saying to yourself and think, would you let anyone else speak to you like that? I bet not. So stop giving yourself such a hard time and remember being a mum is not your only skill set!

And if you need a reminder then assess all the skills you have developed or honed whilst on maternity leave. Objectives and strategy, big picture and little detail, urgent or important, 100% or fit-for-purpose can be a lot clearer after time with a baby!

Regain Your Confidence

UPDATE YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Whatever your work discipline, cut down or stop reading books about raising your baby and start familiarising yourself with your world of work again. Read your professional body’s magazine, call a couple of colleagues and ask them to update you about anything new at work. Read the journals, read the newspapers, get online and find out what’s been happening whilst you’ve been away. Not only will this help you hit the ground running but you will feel more confident and ready for business.

REVIEW YOUR WORK CLOTHES

Your shape will probably have changed so don’t put yourself through the angst of trying to squeeze into the work clothes, including underwear, you used to wear if they don’t fit you properly. You’ve given birth and unless you have a host of personal trainers and a full time nanny it’s likely your shape will not be what it used to be and your previous work clothes will not fit you any more. Clothes generally make you feel good if they fit well. Buy some new ones. If money is tight ask family to give you vouchers from your favourite store for birthdays and Christmas. Tell them why. People will want to support you and you’ll also find people will offer good clothes they may not fit into themselves anymore. Look on eBay. Just do what you can not to go back to work in ill-fitting clothes. How you look can affect how you feel and if you are squeezed into a suit that is no longer designed for your new shape, your confidence will ebb.

WALK, TALK AND ACT WITH CONFIDENCE

Remember Amy Cuddy and the Power Pose? If you haven’t watched her Ted Talk then I suggest you do. It’s not about suddenly becoming an extroverted assertive returner, it’s about helping to regain some of the confidence you may have lost as a result of being out of a corporate environment. And if you don’t have time to watch the full talk here’s a 6 minute version

Get Organised

REVIEW OR DEVELOP A RETURN TO WORK PLAN

Develop a Return to Work plan if you haven’t already sorted that in advance of your maternity leave. Discuss it with your boss or employer to ensure your return has best chance of success. You may find it easier to ease yourself in but you should discuss that and work together to ensure as smooth a return as possible.
Examples of items included could be to;

Plan times with your boss to take you through the significant happenings during your absence and what they think the main challenges are going to be over the next year. That serves a double purpose. You get up to speed and your boss knows you are back and serious about work. Consider having a short meeting every week for your first month or so just to check everything is going well and to address any issues as they arise.

Work through the best way to handover with the person who has been looking after your path whilst you’ve been away. Be respectful of their position too as they are leaving a role they’ve owned for a number of months and that can be a challenge too.

Schedule in times with key people so you can get up to speed with them too and any new employees who have joined since you left.

If you have a team, make sure you see each of them individually to discuss what they have been doing and what goals they have been given for the next 12 months.

Put your personal needs on the agenda too. If you need a facility to express and then store milk at work then discuss that with your boss or HR well before you return so it can be put in place.

AGREE WHO IS GOING TO DO WHAT AT HOME

Talk to your partner so he or she can understand your anxieties and what you’re doing to deal with them. Talk through how you are going to manage the division of labour once you are back at work. Things will change and routines will be different so talk them through before you go back not when you’re stressed and under pressure in the moment. Do the same with your support network so you have someone to call if you need help.

Agree how the housework, shopping and cooking is going to be done. If you don’t already shop for your groceries online then consider it as an option. You are going to have a very full life so take all the help you can. Consider it as you would at work. Can you outsource the shopping and the cleaning? And remember, you don’t need to have a super clean home. You have a baby, so learn to love fit for purpose.

BE PREPARED FOR BABY EMERGENCIES

You are in a meeting and your phone rings. It’s the nursery to say: There’s some sort of emergency that requires you to collect your child early.

Work out what you are going to do because it will happen! And not just once. So be prepared and have plans ready so you aren’t thinking on your feet whilst stressed.

And keep a spare suit at work if you can. Babies seem to have a knack of missing the muslin when you drop them off at nursery and I can’t tell you the number of candidates, women and men, I’ve had to tell they have baby spew somewhere on their sleeve/ shoulder/ lapel etc!

GET SOME SLEEP, DON’T GO BACK TO WORK EXHAUSTED

However you do it, do it. Start childcare earlier than your due back date and take the opportunity to sleep, get someone to look after your baby, skip cleaning the kitchen…..do whatever you have to do but just get some sleep so you can go back to work refreshed and ready for the challenge.

AND FINALLY…

As one young first time mum said to me, ‘take time to allow yourself to BE a new mum despite it all. It is all well and good that you’re back in the buzz of your career, but you are who you are and not a work day will go by without you missing your little bub.

So keep them close. Bring a photo of your new family for your desk. Call them during your break or better still do a five minute face-time or skype with them if you can. These little things will surely spark your energy during the day and perk you up.’

There you have it!

Are you a returner from maternity leave? What has your experience been? Do you have any constructive ideas to support women returning to work? Was there one thing that made all the difference for you? Please share your thoughts by emailing us at jane@peoplecorp.com.au