There are definitely things you can do (and I wish I had done) to make returning to work after maternity leave a bit easier, and these things start BEFORE you even finish work. In this blog post I’ve used personal hindsight, combined with the many women I’ve supported during this transition to summarise 7 things you should do before finishing for maternity leave.
I found my return far harder than I expected and I know this is true for many mums. In my case it was realising that part time equated to no further progression, the stress of finding decent childcare that we could afford, the constant logistical battle of drop offs. Not to mention the emotional rollercoaster of guilt (!) I unexpectedly lost a load of confidence, oh and also that small issue of maternity discrimination (a whole point in itself) which I faced during a subsequent return.
I honestly believe that many employers are missing a massive trick in not looking after their returning talent and women shouldn’t have to go through this period without the right support.
Within Rock your Return I support groups of women in planning for and ensuring this period of change goes as smoothly as possible. It’s truly empowering and I’ve seen the difference it can make, not just short term but far longer term too in terms of career progression. Not to mention that for those who realise they actually don’t want to go back after maternity leave at all, the Game Changers programme was created with this in mind (you can read why I decided to quit my job after becoming a mum here).
But largely I work with women who are already on maternity leave and there are also DEFINITELY some things you can do before finishing up.
So, if you are currently counting down the weeks until you finish here are some of the things I wish I’d known and had done:
– Set aside an afternoon to pull together everything I’d achieved.
Printing out all my past appraisals, gathering up feedback, projects I’d worked on. I wasn’t to know that extreme tiredness would warrant my memory deficient or that I would require a huge confidence boost. Having all of this to hand to refer to either when negotiating a return, applying for new jobs (perhaps) or just in preparing yourself for going back can be so useful and would definitely be time well spent.
– Given myself a good talking to about the need to prove I was wonder woman.
I think as women we often have to work doubly hard to get the recognition we deserve. Add to this the fact that I was very conscious of being seen as ‘awkward’ for taking time out I felt the need to double my efforts on this front. I could achieve anything, I was on fire, I wasn’t going to stop, right up until the very last minute. I plodded to the finish line and thank goodness had a few weeks at home to relax (err what?) before our baby arrived. My pregnancy was so much more important than any work, I wish I had taken it easier. I wish I had been firmer in what I could and couldn’t do in my final months, I wish I had been more confident that I was still delivering on my work and quit the flaming guilt.
– Made a list of the key people I’d like to keep in touch with either over my leave or when I went back.
I’d have then contacted these people to let them know I was going off before finishing work for maternity leave. You never know when you will need your network in future and it is a great idea to keep this communication going.
– Agreed exactly what contact and communication I wanted / expected from my employer while I was off.
I heard from my team that some pretty major re-structure work was happening. After an email to my line manager I was swiftly informed but clearly this had been overlooked. Establishing at the start exactly what both parties expect keeps things really simple and clear. If at all possible, get this in writing too so you have something to refer back to. There will be things they should absolutely inform you about but sometimes it is nice to keep abreast of other changes too. This is a completely personal thing, from another perspective it might be deeply frustrating for work to be sending you emails when you are trying to switch off. Consider what feels right for you and have that conversation.
– Printed out a copy or made sure I had easy access to the polices on flexible working, shared parental leave, career breaks, KIT days and any others that might be of use.
You can always request them at a later stage but having these to hand would have been useful.
– Found myself a mentor.
If your place of work doesn’t have a formal scheme then there is nothing wrong with finding your own. I had one but actually not through being proactive, a colleague was trialling a new process and I agreed to be a part of that. Searching out someone who has previously been through this change, someone who is impartial, who you feel you can chat to confidentially, who you trust. This can just provide such incredible support.
– Taken allocated time off for appointments.
Obviously no-one wants to take the p*ss but women are entitled to this time for a reason (because you are growing another human being which is bloody hard work). I wish I’d remembered this. You can check what you are entitled to here and know that it 100% isn’t taking advantage or unreasonable to make sure you get it.
– Planned my diary further in advance before finishing.
Ask yourself this question – What do I need to have done to feel happy and calm and confident that I am ending up in a good place?
Being more organised in advance would definitely have helped me avoid the last minute dashing around thinking, “sh*t I’ve not done that”. And when you can’t tie your own shoe laces and need to be 60 seconds from a toilet at all times I’m not sure you should be dashing anywhere. You can think logically about what is and isn’t possible in the time you have left, what your priorities are in advance, what you line manager might expect and get all of this into a plan.
There are of course many things that a line manager / employer or even client can and should do to support before you finish work but currently I’m not sure in all situations this actually happens so I hope that these suggestions will help you to feel a bit more in control.
If there is anything you think I’ve missed I’d love to hear from you too,
Rock your Return is a four week online course for anyone due to return to work in the next 6 months. It provides women with tools on topics such as having challenging conversations through to ways to get more organised and prepared for the first weeks back. You can sign up here OR see the box at the bottom of this page to join our newsletter where you’ll be reminded at a later stage when you might be thinking about going back.