It’s difficult to return to work after a period of parental leave. After a period of time away from the workplace, you’ve returned with a new perspective and a new set of objectives. (Not to mention the anxiety and exhaustion caused by the constant addition of additional logistics.) It’s startling and even debilitating. So, what can you do to make your return to work as painless as possible in the first few weeks? You have the option of starting gently or jumping right in if you choose. What are the best ways to deal with your employer and coworkers in the workplace? What’s more, where can you turn for emotional support and encouragement during this time?
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According to the Pros
Working again after having a kid is a “transition that’s like no other,” says Daisy Wademan Dowling, the CEO and co-founder of Workparent, an independent consulting organization for working parents and employers. Every aspect of your life is shifting, she adds, from your daily routine to your parental responsibilities to your identity as you’ve known it for the better part of your adult life. You’re also “taking care of a little human who might not be sleeping very well” as you go through this change, which further adds to the stress.
There is a “intensive physical and psychological adjustment,” says Denise Rousseau, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of organizational behavior and public policy. ‘You may not be ready to leave your child,’ she says. It’s possible that you’ll feel bad about going back to work altogether. This “doesn’t make it any less overwhelming” despite the fact that “all of this is typical.” There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reentry. Faith in yourself and knowing that there are different methods to do so will help you “walk it well,” she says. Here are a few tips to help you get through the first few weeks of work again.
Be gentle with yourself
Try to keep your emotional temperature under check for the first two or three weeks of work, advises Dowling. There has been a major shift in your life. There will be times when you are unsure about returning to work or if you should stay home since you will be “tired, frustrated, and full of self-doubt,” as she says.
Many people return to work after a parental leave and contemplate leaving their jobs. According to her, being depressed or anxious right now does not indicate you will be for the rest of your life. “It’s a difficult time,” he says. Remind yourself that “drawing conclusions” is premature. Embrace your emotions, but keep in mind that this too shall pass, just like your child’s many ages and stages. Rousseau concurs, saying, “Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Consider your schedule
There are “a lot of components of it that you can control and plan for” while transitioning back to work, adds Dowling. As an example, whether to work a few days a week or go back to work full-time is a decision that many people ask themselves. Having a choice isn’t available to everyone, but if you do, carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative.
- Working part-time allows you to learn how to accomplish your previous profession in a different way, according to Rousseau. Your new home life is less stressful, and you can focus better at work. As the saying goes, “You develop a sense of urgency and focus on what matters most.” “You can’t putz around” while you’re working part-time, she explains. It’s important to be “judicious” about the tasks you accept and the way you complete them. Make sure you’re conscious of the message you’ll be sending to your team, says Dowling. According to her, cutting back to two days a week after being a “guns-blazing professional” sends the message that you’re no longer working the same way. I’ve noticed a shift in your focus and ambition.”
- “Resume the profession you had before,” says Dowling, rather than one “with radically diminished expectations,” when you return full-time. Even if it’s more difficult at initially, the advantage is that you’re not starting with a “different bar.” Full-time employment gives you the opportunity to “go in and conduct some data gathering and test things out.” You have the option to “ratchet back” if necessary.
Regardless of your decision, Dowling advises returning to work for no more than two or three days in the first week. If you begin work on a Wednesday, you’ll have more time to get used to the new schedule and won’t be saddled with a five-day workweek right out of the gate.
Do a few practice runs
It can be difficult to get back into the swing of things after taking time off to care for children. In order to reduce the “sting,” Dowling advises “trying to get ahead of them” as much as possible. Let’s start at the beginning: Returning to work on the same day as your child’s first day of daycare or a new nanny is counterproductive.
At least a few practice drop-offs or requesting a week early start are recommended by Dowling. “Acclimate your youngster to the process and the carer,” she advises. You’ll benefit from dry runs as well. Get up in the morning, take a shower and get dressed, feed the baby and drive her to daycare, grab a cup of coffee, and get to work,” she advises.
“Then simply turn the other way.” If you’re breastfeeding, try to squeeze in a few pumping sessions as well. Rousseau advises that your goal is to acquire a “realistic preview” of what you might expect from the course of your study.
Be up front with your boss
When you return to work, you should have a “up-front dialogue” with your manager about the new circumstances in your life and how they affect your employment, advises Dowling. Give an honest assessment of your current state of mind and state that you “remain fully devoted to your job and organization” even if things go “bumpy” in the near future.
Consider what you want from your new employer and how you can make it work best for you in your new circumstance. “Projects you’d like to be considered for” and “work travel that you’re willing to do or not do” should be included, according to Dowling. “The more control you have over your story, the better,” says the author. “You need to proactively own your story.”
According to Rousseau, you should seek your manager for help reentering the workforce. Acknowledge that your first few weeks and months back at work are going to be challenging. Discuss your manager’s priorities with him or her.”
Set expectations with colleagues
As you adjust to your new work environment, pay attention to how you interact with your coworkers. It’s not uncommon for parents to return from leave with the attitude of “I’ll figure it out.” People will assume what your schedule and plans are if you don’t tell them up front.”
It’s essential to keep in touch. Make it clear how and when you plan to complete your assignment. Predictability is key when it comes to managing your time. For example, “people will know not to come by your office at 4:59 PM wanting to talk if you need to leave every night at 5 PM on the dot,” she explains. As long as you “educate your coworkers on what to expect” and properly communicate your timetable requirements, they will be able to alter as necessary.
Don’t try to resume your professional career on your own; it’s a lengthy procedure. Dowling suggests that you look for people who can offer you encouragement and support while you make the change. Join a group for parents, she advises. Look online for a support group. Connect with other parents of small children in your neighborhood. Find out whether your company has any resources for new parents you can utilize. Colleagues who’ve been through the process might be a great source of information.
Make the most of the time you spend with your child.
Dowling advises you to consider “how you will spend time with your kids” when you get back into the rhythm of things at work. Is it going to be early in the day? In the evening? What percentage of the time? For those who work long hours or travel a lot and don’t have time for “rewarding time with your child,” you need a strategy.
Inform the person who is caring for your child of your thoughts. Even whether your infant is attending daycare or residing at home with a nanny or family member, these folks are now crucial parts of your professional puzzle. No, I don’t want them to email me photos when I’m at work. Can we talk on FaceTime? “Don’t allow your emotional attachment with your child to play second fiddle,” adds Dowling. “Take your time,” advises the narrator.
Reset your expectations
It’s a good idea to start thinking about your professional rebranding as soon as you return to work. In the words of Dowling: “Think about what makes you unique or different.” After then, think about how you may adapt those characteristics to fit your new situation. “Perhaps you become the most efficient if you are the person who works the hardest in the office. Because of your leadership or mentoring role, you become an excellent delegator,” she explains. Reset your expectations of yourself is the ultimate goal. Doing otherwise will lead to trying to play a role that you no longer have the ability to fulfill. “You need to be realistic about what you can and should contribute,” says Rousseau.
Principles to Remember
- During your first few weeks back at work, avoid taking an emotional temperature. After parental leave, returning to work can be a lengthy process.
- In order to avoid confusion, be as consistent and open as possible with coworkers about your schedule. But keep in mind that you may have to make some tweaks along the road.
- Encouragement and support from other parents at work can be invaluable.
- You should arrange for your child’s first day with a new caregiver on the day you return to work. Prepare yourself and your child for the circumstance by practicing beforehand.
- Let your boss know what you need, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Let others know what you want.
- Think of yourself as the same professional that you were before having a child. Instead of focusing on what you can’t change, focus on what you can.
Case Study #1: Redefine your expectations for yourself, and make adjustments to how you do your job
An employee at a claims and productivity management company became a mother three years ago. Ericka DeBruce is the vice president of engagement, inclusivity, and corporate social responsibility at Sedgwick.
It wasn’t until she gave birth to her son that she knew “life will never be the same” for her again.
On her first day back from maternity leave, she drove her son to daycare. This is what she tells her supervisor: “I called my boss in tears from the parking lot.” “I was unable to go. “I was in a state of turmoil.”
After a while, she was acclimated to the drop-off, but the first time taught her a valuable lesson. In the future, I’ll always suggest to new parents on my staff that they spend a few days in childcare before they return to work.
Ericka is the first to acknowledge that the first few months of her career were difficult for her personally and professionally. In her voice, she says, “I believed I was doing nothing right.” “I had the impression that I was always rushing around. When I got home from work, I had to rush my son’s bedtime routine so that I could get back online and finish my work.”
Reflecting on the event, Ericka came to her own conclusion. A self-described “ambitious” woman, she was also “conscientious” and “hardworking.” Despite the fact that she was still all of those things, the birth of her kid had a profound effect on her career objectives.
She explains, “I had a clear idea of what I intended to do.”
“Areas where I could contribute and offer value” were discussed with her manager at a one-on-one meeting.
Moreover, it became clear she needed to alter her work practices and the parameters she set for it. She admits that she set the standard “very high.” for my sanity I recognized that not every email necessitated a quick reply. A voicemail didn’t necessitate me returning the call.
Today, Ericka is able to strike a solid work-life balance while also raising a family. According to her, “I recognized that I needed to reframe the expectations I had for myself [in the context of] my new normal.”
Case Study #2: Set expectations with others while leaving room for flexibility
A lot of things changed during Courtney Lazzari’s first maternity leave in 2014. Courtney, a partner at EY, relocated from New York to Texas while she was abroad and was promoted to a new position. In a new city, with a new job and a new baby, I was a new mom. ‘Let’s make all these transitions at once,’ I thought at the time,” she laughs.
In preparation for her return from leave, Courtney considered what she hoped to accomplish in her new position. Moreover, she pondered her role at EY. According to her, “in New York, [my coworkers] were familiar with my work ethic.” “In Houston, I had no prior connection with them.” I wanted to be sure that my reputation as a diligent worker would not be tarnished. This worried me since I didn’t want to be seen as someone who’d lost focus.”
When she returned to work, she met with her manager face-to-face to talk about her aspirations for the position. Both her boss and the organization discussed their expectations for her as a new mother, as well as how they could help her transition.
It was clear that Courtney had a strong desire to work for the firm and her position. Even yet, she was well aware of the fact that she’d have to be more adaptable than in the past. When it came to taking my son to the doctor, my one uncompromising need was that I may do so at any time, regardless of whether he had an appointment or not. I told you straight out that I would drop everything and go accomplish it.”
In addition, Courtney discussed her schedule and day-to-day routine with her manager. She had hoped to begin her employment at 7 a.m. so that she could leave at 3 p.m. to spend time with her kid after school. After he went to sleep, she planned to log back in at night.
It took her a bit to get used to this. After a one-hour trip each way, Courtney soon realized that this plan was ineffective. It’s now “I work from home two days a week,” she continues. For now, it’s just giving me more time to be a mom, she says. (She’s now a mother to a daughter as well.)
In spite of the fact that her former schedule would not work in the long run, she is glad she tried to continue her old one since it helped her realize that she still desired a profession. “Don’t drive yourself into a stupid decision,” she says to others.
14 ways to ease the pain of returning to work after maternity leave
1. Feel all the feels, but let go of guilt
Going back to work can make you sad, but it can also make you thrilled. Cry, laugh, blog, or talk to a friend after you’ve acknowledged your feelings without judgment. Pre-emptive nostalgia washed over me for weeks before my mat leave ended, as I mourned all of our “lasts”: the last mat-leave breakfast, the last mat-leave walk, the last mat-leave diaper change (spoiler: these things continued to happen post-mat leave, too).
It is important to remember that guilt is a feeling that evolved as a way for us to recognize when we’ve done something wrong. Returning to work to help support your family, on the other hand, is never a mistake. It is understandable that you may feel bad about leaving your child at day care every day, but it is not something you should feel guilty about.
2. Think about what you want
Surveys conducted by The Mom Project, an organization that works to improve the workplace for working mothers, uncovered the fact that many women prefer a more flexible work schedule than the traditional 9-5. Even more so, 88% viewed flexibility to be of equal importance to salary—or perhaps even more so. Consider: What are the most important aspects of your job? What if the workweek was cut in half? Those need less time away from home?
Is there a possibility of working from home? Is this a well-earned raise?? If you’re a self-employed person, write out your goals and ask for (or plan) what you desire. Set up a return-to-work meeting with your supervisor to brainstorm implementation options if you’re not sure how to put your ideas into action. Start looking at different workplaces if you can’t get what you want from your current employer or if asking doesn’t feel like an option. The 30-hour work week may one day become a reality, therefore set down your aspirations as future intents.
3. Get in touch with work early
Before returning to work, if you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your employer and coworkers by email or over a cup of coffee. Sends the idea that you are motivated and appreciate your work and provides an opportunity for both parties to set expectations for what you will do when you return.
4. Planning makes perfect(ish)
When I took maternity leave, my husband came along to help out with the new baby. It wasn’t the best. You can go a long way with some planning (apologies to those who are averse to it, but just bear with me). You may want to try out your new morning routine for a few days before putting it into action (timer optional but recommended). Keeping a to-do list or weekly calendar handy is another great way to stay organized. Employers should consider providing moms with a concierge service to run errands while they work, according to Great Place to Work, an organization that rates workplaces throughout the world.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a little more help from your mom, closest friend, or neighbor, even though that’s not a reality for most of us (especially for those first couple of weeks back). Simplify your mornings as much as possible by preparing meals and putting away the laundry the night before. After 66 days, according to a research in the European Journal of Social Psychology, you should be creating food plans in your sleep after a few months.
5. Try a soft start
Rather than rushing into your new routine, take your time and become used to it. Begin with just a few hours per day, and work your way up to full-time care before returning to the workforce (use the time to shop for a new back-to-work outfit or to just, you know, use the bathroom in peace). In some cases, employers provide “graduated returns” or “soft returns” (lower responsibilities for the first few weeks) (slow increases in time at work until the target hours each day or week are met). Start back in the middle of the week or, better yet, on a Friday to ease the transition back to work.
6. Know your breastfeeding rights
CHRC has determined that employers must make accommodations for breastfeeding mothers. This means that you have the right to take breaks (in addition to your regular breaks) to breastfeed or express milk at work, and you should not be required to work overtime to make up for this time. You are permitted to nurse anywhere you feel most comfortable, despite the CHRC’s recommendation that employers provide a designated nursing area.
On the other hand, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that discrimination against an employee because she is breastfeeding constitutes sex discrimination—meaning that you can breastfeed in the break room without being asked to cover up. Currently only Ontario and British Columbia explicitly protect breastfeeding in public spaces.
7. Expect setbacks
When I returned to work, I expected that the first few weeks would be the most difficult. Even though I was heartbroken to say goodbye to my daughter on the big day, she seemed to take it all in stride. We were both fine, which was surprising. A few months later, my kid was suffering from severe separation anxiety, and I was exhausted to the point of exhaustion.
When I got home from work one day, I remember weeping my eyes out on the kitchen floor because I was exhausted. One thing is for certain: There will be unexpected hurdles like colds, bouts of teething, and snow days on the way back to work. Keeping the motto “this, too, shall pass” in mind and having a back-up plan for child care are both beneficial.
8. Know your child care rights
Workplaces in Canada have a duty to accommodate employees’ child care needs and provide flexible work schedules or the option to work from a different location, as the Federal Court of Appeal declared in 2014. There are three days of unpaid family responsibility leave available each year for Canadian employees who need to care for sick children (thankfully, most employers will give more days or provide paid leave).
9. Reach out to other parents
The parental community may be a great source of encouragement. While the heart emojis and encouraging comments on our Instagram stories about going back to work are nice, I want to hear from other parents who have been in your shoes and can offer guidance based on their own experience. Learn from these folks by relying on their expertise. If you can’t locate a mentor in your field, look for someone who can provide you advice unique to the job. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned when the time comes.
10. Set boundaries
While you’re at work, try to limit the number of times you call your child’s daycare (or grandparents or the person who stays at home with them) to check in. There is no need to worry about it. Just relax and enjoy those perfectly pressed dress pants that you wore the day before. Take pleasure in conversing with your coworkers on a level they can understand. If you work from home, be sure to set clear boundaries regarding when you’re not allowed to be on the phone or checking email.
Try to leave work at work at the end of the day. Pre-baby you might have planned to finish up some loose ends in the evenings or weekends, but post-baby you won’t always have (or want) this choice. To keep your phone from overflowing with “urgents” after you’ve left the office or returned to “on-limit” status for the day, you may need to employ some creative time-management methods.
11. Carve out special time with your little one
It was both liberating and terrible to hand over the parental duties to my husband. Despite my gratitude for his year-long leave of absence, I was concerned about the impact on my connection with my daughter of my husband’s decision to become the “secondary” parent. When I initially arrived home, I realized how crucial it was to spend half an hour in her room alone. We also go to the pool on Sundays, just the two of us. We’ve both found it simpler to adjust because of these special times we’ve spent together.
12. Take care of yourself, too.
Business Performance Innovation Network (BPI) released a 2018 study that found that 63% of North American parents who work outside the home had experienced some type of parental burnout (also known as “severe tiredness”). Find little methods to nourish your body and mind as much as you can—without making “self-care” a stressful component of your to-do list. Get some shut-eye at a reasonable hour. Coffee date with your best friend. Do something active, even if it’s just a short walk during your lunch break. Get a massage or see a therapist with the help of your benefits, if you have any. If a village is needed to raise a child, then a village is also needed to assist a parent, and that should be celebrated.
13. Remember your worth
Moms returning to work (and I use the word “moms” here because these biases tend to be gendered) are subjected to a slew of stereotypes about their ability to focus, put in less effort, or be uninterested in their career advancement (um, no). When it comes to productivity and commitment, mothers and non-parent employees alike are equally as capable and productive as their male counterparts.
A Harvard professor’s recent study of thousands of women and men revealed that girls reared by mothers who worked outside the home earned more money and were more likely to hold managerial roles as adults. Sons fared better than daughters: they were more inclined to help out around the house and devote time to caring for aging relatives. Even while these statistics are comforting, I’m not holding on to them too closely because I feel I can raise a daughter who becomes a boss or a son who is committed to raising his own children if I decide to go back to work full-time.
14. Cut yourself some slack
Keep in mind that this is your first job outside the house while also being a parent. Working while raising two—or three—kids is a new experience for many parents, whether this is their first time or not. You’ll be exhausted. Everything you do will feel like it’s being done half-heartedly. Self-love is a virtue. The most I can do is a matching set of earrings and, more often than not, only slightly wrinkled slacks when it comes to getting ready in the morning.
What do you say to someone going back to work after maternity leave?
With the arrival of [baby’s name], I wish you all the best. Our goal at [business] is to make your return to work as seamless as possible. To accommodate your position, I can provide you with [accomodation, such as a lactation room or a flexible work schedule]. Please let me know if you require any other assistance.
Can an employer ask if you are returning after maternity leave?
Employers are not allowed to inquire about the status of your pregnancy, nor may they refuse to hire someone if they are pregnant or of childbearing age. When it comes to returning to work after having or adopting a child, they are not allowed to inquire about your plans.
Can I go back to work 4 weeks after having a baby?
Most women return to work six weeks after the birth of their child, although some doctors will clear a new mother for work as early as three weeks postpartum. Delivery or C-section complications can lengthen the healing period.
How long should you take off work after having a baby?
Accreditation Commission for Women’s Health (ACOG) suggests women take at least six weeks off from work after childbirth. But for many women, maternity leave is an unattainable luxury because of the absence of legally required paid family leave.
When to tell your boss you’re not coming back from maternity leave?
Make sure to tell your manager if, following maternity leave, you have decided that you will not be returning to work and want to maintain a strong working relationship with them. When you return to work, don’t wait until the end of the day.
How do I go back to work after having a baby?
If you’ve been out of work for a long period of time, you may want to consider getting a part-time job to get back into the workforce. Having a full-time work and caring for your children while also being a full-time housewife can seem like a major step to some people.
How many stay-at-home moms go back to work?
Becoming a stay-at-home mother does not mean that your professional life is over. In reality, 70% of stay-at-home moms return to work at some point, with over half of them returning to full-time employment.
Can I go back to work 2 weeks after c-section?
Consult your doctor for specific instructions, but most new parents are comfortable behind the wheel by the second or third post-surgery week. Moms typically require six to eight weeks or more to recover from a c-section before returning to work. Make the most of your maternity leave if you can.
What happens if I lose my job while on maternity leave?
There is no time limit on the amount of Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance you can earn if you are fired while on maternity leave. Maternity pay may be deducted from notice pay in the event that you receive notice pay.
Is your job protected while on maternity leave?
In the event that a pregnant employee is unable to execute her duties, she is permitted to work. During maternity leave, pregnant employees are protected from losing their jobs. During maternity leave, an employee’s seniority and entitlement to raises and perks are not affected.