Whether you’re going back to work when your baby is three months or eighteen months old, it’s a demanding stage to go through.
“It’s a challenging transition time,” says Emma Walsh, founder of Mums @ Work. She adds that asking for assistance is a big key to making this transition back to work possible: “The people around you will be happy to help you out if you let them.”
There are several things to consider when you’re heading back to work after taking maternity leave.
Think about what you want
This is an ideal time to think about whether your role is right for you. “It’s what I call a career audit,” explains Walsh. “Think about the role you’re going back to and whether that’s going to be the same or different, because in the time you’ve been away the organisation could have undergone some changes.”
Having some time away from work can be a good time to think clearly about your career. “Really think about what you want: where you are at in your career, what you enjoy doing in your job, and where you would like to head,” says Walsh. “You want to think about not only whether you’re bringing value to your job, but whether it’s bringing value to you.”
Consider your mental health needs at this time, too, including:
- Post-natal depression is a high risk during the first twelve months after having a baby, so be aware of your own triggers towards exhaustion, stress and low moods
- Leaving your baby to go back to work can be an emotional time, so seek support from your close friends, family and workplace during this adjustment
- Taking time out for yourself or with your partner can be tricky when you’re managing work and family responsibilities, so consider how you’ll manage this
Prepare before asking for flexible work arrangements
If you’re considering requesting flexible work arrangements - which you can under the Fair Work Act - then give yourself some time to prepare for that discussion with your manager or human resources department.
The key things to consider are:
- How would you like flexibility to be incorporated into your role, in a way that works with your life as a new parent? Be specific about the hours, days and locations.
- Remember it’s a two-way street, so prepare to explain to your employer how this will benefit them. “What sort of flexibility are you willing to offer and ask for in return?” asks Walsh. “How will it add value to the business?”
- “Consider asking for a gradual return to work,” Walsh advises. “It’s tough going from full-time parenting one week to full-time work the next. Even if your gradual return is over a month, it can help that adjustment.”
Get down to practicalities
During your maternity leave, you’ll have realised how much there is to organise if you’re going to be away from your baby. This is never more true than when you return to work. Things to consider include:
- Childcare arrangements. Have you organised care for your baby in a place you’re comfortable with? Also talk to your partner and any family members nearby about what you’ll do when your baby or carer is sick.
- You’ll need to make sure your support networks are ready to help out, both in a practical sense and as an ear to listen if you’re struggling.
- Talk to your partner about the workload around the house. Many women take on the burden of these duties while at home during maternity leave, however it’s unrealistic to continue this way once you’re back at work. Have some specific conversations about how you’ll share these responsibilities.
- Feeding arrangements for your baby are a big consideration, too. Think ahead about whether you’ll be breastfeeding when you return to work and, if so, how you will manage this during working hours. If your baby will be bottle fed while you’re away, make sure their carer has had a practise ahead of time.
Perhaps the most important consideration when transitioning back to work after your maternity leave is your own expectations of yourself. The demands on you to perform at work and at home can be draining, as can the feeling that you’re meant to have everything under control.
“Manage your expectations, and set realistic intentions every day,” says Walsh. The key word here is ‘realistic’: don’t set the bar too high, and be wary of the dangers of placing too much pressure on yourself. Try to go into each day with a good idea of how you’re going to manage what needs to be done, and ask for help wherever possible to get through it.
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