Returning to work after maternity leave

By Cate Burton

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A few people at Head Resourcing have gone on maternity leave during my time here, including myself. One of my colleagues went off recently and it got me thinking about my time off last year…

A year off work after having a baby – some people assume it’s a year’s holiday! Six months into my ‘break’ and I was beginning to think I was ready to return to the real world, however I decided to take a full year off and as the countdown to returning to the office approached, I started to feel a little bit nervous.

My daughter took to nursery with no problems whatsoever, so there was no worry there, but I found getting myself back into work mode a whole different kettle of fish. There were lots of mixed feelings going around my head – will I remember the code to get in the door? Will I make it up and out of the house by 8am?! How will I survive a day at work with no nap time built in?

A lot of small trivial things, however the main one was… will I actually be able to do my job?

I’m pretty sure these are fairly normal fears that a lot of mums returning to work will be able to empathise with (I’m sure they’re not the only ones!).

In any case, here’s my advice for mums returning to work after maternity leave.

1. It’s day one all over again.

My first day back was like the first day of a new job. I had to remember how to use my brain again, and after baby-talk (in more ways than one) for a year, that wasn’t an easy task. I’d say this was the biggest challenge in returning to work. You can usually fit travel arrangements, appointments and so on around your work, but thinking outside of nappies and milk was a much bigger shift than I had anticipated. Thankfully, the team at Head are very accommodating and understanding, and are strong on family values, so if I needed to move things around for baby reasons I could, making the return a lot easier for me.

2. Switching on ‘work mode’ is harder than it might seem.

When I finished up to go on maternity leave, I had a really good grasp of my work; I had great knowledge and skills and my network was strong. Taking a long time out had more of an effect than I thought it would. A year out of my working environment I’d been focused on everything but work, and when I got back to work I couldn’t help but wonder what my little one was up to, or what chores were being left behind! I had to really re-apply myself to remember what I had learned to get back into the swing of things, reintegrate myself into working life and think about work without letting the mind wander!

3. Team dynamics can change

Thankfully the team at Head have been really helpful in my reintegration – I have been able to adjust my working hours around dropping off and picking up my daughter from nursery, and I’ve dropped to a four-day week. For me this works really well and the team are good at helping cover my work when I’m away, which means I can relax and enjoy my day off. I think it’s really important to have an open dialogue with your employer while you’re away and also when you return – this way you’ll minimise the risk of the unexpected and you can both plan for the future.

4. You could be the next ‘newbie’

As I mentioned earlier, your first day back does feel like your first day ever, but you will find that soon enough it’ll be like you were never away. However, there were a few changes to the team over the course of my time off, which was weird to come back to, especially as to some of the new people, I was the new girl! Having said that, the overall office vibe and team culture hadn’t really changed at all, so there was a bit of comfort there.

5. Everything comes together

After a few months back to work, I began to realise I was of course capable of being a mum and doing my job after all. Within a couple of months I started discussions with my manager to see how I could go about progressing within my role and move up to the next level, and I’m really pleased to say that I have now achieved this. When I first returned to work this felt like too much to take on, but a little bit of time, focus and perseverance has made me realise I can have a family and still develop my career.

It’s worth saying that this was my personal experience of being a first-time mum and returning to work – everyone is different and will have a different experience to me. I think the key is to be open with your employer and they should in return be open and support you too.

Finally, remember to enjoy your maternity leave as well – the time goes so fast and the little ones grow up quickly!

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