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  • Writer's pictureAli McNab

Supporting women to return well after maternity leave

Remember your last day at work before maternity leave? Gifts from your colleagues, a gushing speech from your boss, a tearful response from you.

Emotions fuelled by pregnancy hormones as you closed down your email; months of leave ahead of you - oh the things you would do!!

........ you had no idea how much your life was 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, or advice can fully prepare you for it.

New parenthood is a unique experience that draws on your emotions and anxieties in a way you could never have predicted. The vast sense of responsibility, fear, expectation and 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.

And then, just as you begin to get used to life as a parent and all the crazy emotions and logistics 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! And you are returning as a different “you”!

How you experience this return to work is unique and personal:

You may be 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, having had zero time to think about what to do instead.

Maybe you’re scared of leaving your child. They’ve become such a part of you that you can’t remember a time when they didn't exist; as you frantically try to wean them off you while feeling immense guilt and the pressure of the countdown.

Or you might be nervous that you’ve 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.

The mind boggling logistics of how to make it work with childcare, flexible working options, commuting, what to do if they are sick etc could be making you anxious.

Or you may just be too exhausted to imagine how you will function 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.

Your priorities have changed, YOU have changed, the way you view yourself and your world has changed. You step back into work and …..

…... everyone expects you to be exactly the same as when you left …….

As returning to work parents, the expectations and pressures we put on ourselves are huge. These are magnified if our colleagues and employers' expectations and attitudes do not support our emotional, psychological and logistical needs at this time.

Embedding a culture of support and understanding that enables parents to return well reaps big benefits for the organisation as well as the individual.

Does your organisation have a culture of:

  • Positive attitude towards working parents; understanding the emotional, psychological and logistical challenges and competing priorities they are experiencing

  • Supporting parents to grow back into their roles and work life; empowering them to manage the thoughts, feelings and vulnerabilities that come with this period of rediscovery

  • Including a settling-back-in process / induction as an integral part of the return to work

  • Ensuring managers and peers are equipped to support the parents they work with to return well

Organisations that actively create this culture generate:

  • 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

  • Increased confidence and productivity as people are able to manage priorities and commitments in a healthy and agile way

  • A reputation for being a great place to work; attracting even more talent and loyalty.

I offer 1:1 and group support to women returning to work. This can be through the organisation as part of their staff wellbeing programme, or to individuals directly. I provide a confidential and non-judgemental space for women to explore and work through the challenges and emotions 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 talk about how I may be able to support you.


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