The end of maternity leave brings all sorts of emotions. You may feel anxious at the thought of leaving your child all day, excited at the thought of some me-time and chance to have a hot coffee, looking forward to getting back to your career, or even questioning if you want to go back to work at all.
However you feel (and it could be a mixture of all the above), know that it is entirely normal to feel apprehensive about your return to work. You may be wondering how you will:
- Juggle work and family
- Manage to be an exemplary employee and a fantastic mum
- Set boundaries between work and personal life
- Be able to cope with all that your career and family life throws at you
In this article executive coach Lizzie Martin, who specialises in supporting new parents back to work with confidence and impact, takes you through her top 5 steps to consider when planning your return to work, ensuring you return successfully and with less stress after maternity leave.
Step one – Defining success
Get clear on what success means to you. Some people want a role that allows them to work flexibly; others want to lead a project within a specific timeframe. Others may wish to manage their team in a certain way.
Everybody will have their vision of what a successful return looks like. And each vision will be different.
Knowing what success looks like to you is the starting block because then you can plan other steps around it. If you don’t know what you are aiming for, you won’t be in the driving seat. You will find yourself being pulled and pushed in different directions, responding to what other people think you should be doing, rather than being true to yourself.
Step two- Know your skills and strengths
Build confidence in your unique professional value by recognising your skills and your strengths. Many women lose confidence whilst on maternity leave and are worried they won’t have any professional value to add. If this is you, don’t worry. It is entirely normal to feel this way. It is also normal to have mixed feelings around your maternity leave cover and concerns that you have been replaced.
Doing a free online strengths assessment will help remind you what you can do and the value you bring to your organisation.
Now consider all the brilliant skills you have developed since becoming a mum. How can you weave these skills into your job? So, for example, resilience, empathy, crisis management and productivity are skills that you learn and develop at such a fast rate on maternity leave. These are all leadership skills that you can now transfer into your job, becoming a more vital and valuable employee.
Step three – Set your boundaries
It is essential to identify your non-negotiables. You will have identified these when working through step one and your measure for success.
Think about how you will communicate what you need from who, when and where.
A boundary for you may be that you need to leave work at 4:30 pm to be home in time for nursery pick up. You may be nervous about having this conversation with your Manager and put it off. Therefore you may feel more comfortable taking smaller steps to build up to that conversation. So practice having a smaller and safer conversation first.
Another factor to consider is the cost of not having that conversation. You want to have ‘the conversation’ but don’t have the confidence to take your Manager to one side. But as a consequence of not having that conversation, you end up missing bedtime, arguing with your partner because you are both tired, and spending 3 hours stressed at home.
Is that pain better than having that conversation? We sometimes make these conversations seem more significant than they are.
Step four – Networking
This step involves using your keeping in touch days and reconnecting with your old colleagues when you return to work.
You have a golden opportunity when you return to connect with new people and build your internal network. Use this time to invite people for coffee meetings and find out what has been happening in the department during your absence. You also have an excuse to introduce yourself to new people or those recently promoted.
Be strategic about who you choose to network with on your return to boost your visibility.
Step five – develop a plan
Create a manageable timeline on when you can achieve all the above steps. Your plan may include the following:
- Who am I having my meetings with?
- Who do I need to set boundaries with?
- How am I going to set these boundaries?
- What unique strengths have I identified?
- How am I going to weave these back into my day job?
- When will I review my measure of success?
- What are my longer-term career ambitions?
A final note is to remember to enjoy yourself – having a family and a successful career is possible – returning to work is a time full of change and uncertainty but also growth and opportunity.