Returning to work after maternity leave is a mixed bag of emotions and practicalities.
Emma Walsh from Parents at Work, an organisation committed to making workplaces more family friendly, says it’s important to use your time at home to reflect on what you really want from work.
Emma says: “You can never spend enough time thinking about that. Reflect on it and what’s important to you in terms of work-life balance. Ask yourself, ‘How will the work I was doing before I had a baby feel now that I’ve had a baby?'”
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1. Make a Plan B
Say you plan to head back after nine months because, before the baby came, that seemed like enough time.
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Emma advises extending that to a full year to give yourself a buffer/wriggle room.
“You need to make all your plans with a Plan B in mind. Keep your options open so that if the plan you thought was going to work starts to backfire, you have some room to change things.”
2. Keeping in touch with work – yay or nay?
Again, this is a very personal decision.
Emma says if you’re really invested professionally and emotionally in your workplace then, by all means, drop them a line or take baby in for a visit every now and then.
But if the opposite is true – don’t invest too much time in touching base.
“If you know in your heart you’re actually open to a change in job, then don’t stay in touch. You might give the impression you want to come back and yet have no intention of doing that,” says Emma.
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3. What can you do if your job has changed once you return?
This can be a common scenario, as a business can change over the course of a year. Legally, Emma says your company (depending on your contract) have the right to make changes to your role if it conforms to your existing salary and rate of pay.
“The reality is that if you are in a permanent role, and on a contract, your employer does have to hold the position open for you. BUT they don’t have to give you the exact same job as long as the roles are similar, and you are paid the same rate,” says Emma.
“Admittedly, there is a grey line here because sometimes it feels like you’re being forced into a choice that doesn’t really feel like a choice.”
Tip: Keep your job position description on hand while you’re on maternity leave so you can refer to it whenever you need to. That way, if a problem arises you can get into a conversation about facts and not concepts.
If you feel you’re being discriminated against and can’t afford the services of a lawyer, you can go to the Human Rights Commission where there is a service to lodge a free claim to state that you’re a parent being discriminated against.
“They will talk you through the process of what can be done, or what’s important,” says Emma.
“Gather as much evidence as you can before you speak with them. Including your contract and any discussions you had prior to maternity leave.”
4. Negotiating a part-time position
Working full time can feel a bit different once you’re a working parent. If you’re considering a part-time role, Emma recommends raising it with your manager on a trial basis.
“A great way to do this to suggest a trial – maybe three days a week for three months. Ask them: would that work for you? This loose agreement gives you both wriggle room to assess whether the agreement is working and time to consider an alternative,” says Emma.
Remember: It takes at least 12 months to adjust getting back to work, juggling the baby and rediscovering who you are again at work while you’re raising your family.
5. Coping with the emotional rollercoaster
Emma says this is the most common challenge women face returning to work after baby.
“You can get your head around the practical aspects of working but the bit you don’t expect really hits you, you’re really missing your baby, or emotionally feeling that something isn’t right,” says Emma.
And while your manager expects to talk about the practical stuff, they may not be as comfortable talking about how much you miss your little one!
“Make sure you have a strong communication network around you to support you through the emotional aspects of this change,” says Emma.
“Also listen to yourself. If your instincts are telling you it’s too soon to be back at work, or you want to spend more time at home, you’d be right to listen to yourself. And if that’s the case, it’s helpful to set yourself milestones, like: ‘If I still feel like this is three months then I will re-look at this situation.’”