Returning to work after Maternity Leave
It's your last day in the office before maternity leave: You've received chocolates and a pregnancy massage voucher from your colleagues, a gushing speech from your boss (a tearful response from you). You weep as you read your leaving card - your emotions fuelled by pregnancy hormones and the cheeky glass of Cava you've allowed yourself.
You bounce (waddle) out of the office feeling like you are on holiday or maybe feeling a little lost. You still have some time before this baby joins the world - oh the things you will do!! ........ you have no idea how much your life is about to change!
When you leave work to go on maternity leave you enter a whole new chapter of your life. Far from the “gap year” feeling that you may experience in those first few days: no amount of reading, talking, advice can fully prepare you for it. New parenthood is a unique experience to everyone, it draws on your emotions and anxieties in a way you you could never have predicted. The vast sense of responsibility, fear, expectation, isolation is overwhelming. Suddenly you are performing a job that you have no prior experience of, and yet you have full or joint accountability for.
Luckily for most there is support available for these early months, and I’d urge any new parent to take what they can. But that isn’t what I’m focusing on here: I want to talk about the bit where; having just begun to get used to life as a parent and all the crazy emotions that go with it …….. It is time to return to your other job! The one that pays the bills, the one where you feel you have to be a certain way! The one that you are returning to as a different "you" to when you left!
Of course everyone experiences this differently:
Maybe you're excited about regaining your identity, getting some independence back “ooh I’ll be able to go to the loo on my own and drink a hot cup of tea”.
Or you might be dreading returning to a job that you hadn’t really intended to go back to, but here you are 6 -12 months later having had zero time to think about what to do instead.
Maybe you are terrified about being away from your child. They have become such a part of you that you can’t remember a time when they didn't exist, and you're frantically trying to wean them off you as they refuse to take the bottle and you feel immense guilt and the pressure of the count down.
Or you might be nervous that you have forgotten how to do your job (after all you haven't had an adult conversation for 12 months!) or that your maternity cover is doing a better job than you and you will feel like an impostor.
Maybe the mind boggling logistics of how to make it work with childcare, flexible working options, commuting, what to do if they are sick etc is making you anxious.
Or maybe you are just too exhausted to imagine how you will function at work because, let’s face it, at 12 months a lot of babies are not sleeping soundly through the night whatever Gina Ford would have us believe.
....... And so on and so on ….. There are many anxieties and concerns that we as returning to work parents experience. The expectations we put on ourselves are huge.
So; you have all these emotions, responsibilities and logistics zipping around your head; your priorities have changed, you have changed, the way you view yourself and your world has changed. You step back into the office and …..
…... Everyone expects you to be exactly the same as you were when you left ……. or so it feels!
Now of course I’m being extreme about this: Some of your colleagues will understand (seek them out!). Some organisations are recognising the benefits to both the company and their employees of supporting maternity leavers to return well.
A huge well done to those organisations who are fully engaging in this! This is smart! You will certainly benefit!
However for the vast majority of organisations this is not the case. The chances are that if you are returning to the same job there is no settling back in phase.
My vision is one where organisations understand the emotional, psychological and logistical challenges and competing priorities of parents returning to work, and recognise the benefit to both the individual and the organisation of supporting these women to start back well.
Organisations that will feel the greatest benefits are those where positive attitudes and support towards maternity leave returners is embedded in the culture of the organisation. Where managers and peers also feel equip to support the women they work with to return well.
The organisations that support women to grow back into their roles and into work life, empowering them to manage the thoughts and feelings that come with this period of rediscovery and settling back in, and embracing the vulnerabilities that are to be expected in these early months.
These are the organisations that will reap the following benefits:
Happy staff who feel supported, trusted and understood, not judged and penalised - enabling them to get on with their jobs in an effective and efficient manner.
Committed, engaged and loyal staff who will aspire to grow and develop within the organisation.
Retention of talented women - particularly at a senior level - who can drive forward the vision of the organisation.
An increased confidence and satisfaction which leads to better productivity and less stress.
I offer 1:1 and group support to women returning to work. This can be through the organisation as part of their staff well-being programme, or to individuals directly. I provide a confidential and non-judgemental space for women to explore and work through the challenges and emotions that they feel as a result of returning to work after maternity leave. This enables them to start well, reignite how they would like to show up at work and to find strategies and skills to help them manage the competing challenges and priorities of their lives as working parents. Contact me to book a free, no obligations, discovery call to talk about how I may be able to support you.