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Returning to Work After Maternity/ Paternity Leave13th January 2023
Our Marketing Manager Jade pulls on her own experience of returning to work after maternity leave, providing some advice for those in the same situation.
I’m a first time Mum, currently working part time. When my little boy came into the world, 15 months ago, it sounds cliché but my life (and me as a person) fundamentally changed. My identity was no longer defined by who I am and what I do for work. It felt like being a parent overrode all of that.
I absolutely loved my maternity leave and know how lucky I am to have had almost a year off to get to know my little one. But a year felt like a lifetime of being out of a work setting, and as the months ticked by, the thought of returning to work was loaded with so many conflicting emotions.
Nerves, apprehensive, dread, excitement, guilt, panic… all feelings that fought for centre stage in my overactive mind. And all very valid and normal feelings I have learnt, after chatting to some of my Mum friends and doing a bit of research.
Over a third of women stated that they found it ‘harder than expected’ to return after maternity leave. Almost a quarter of felt that the workplace was ‘completely different’ when they returned. Not even accounting for the huge shift caused by COVID-19. The range of emotions felt by mothers before returning to work varies hugely. Almost a third felt excited, over half expressed worry and over a third confessed they were dreading returning to work.*
I thought I would share my tips for returning to work after maternity leave. Hopefully it could provide some advice, reassurance, or guidance for parents in the same boat as I was…
Use your ‘keep in touch’ days and any accrued days strategically.
Going from no work at all to full time (or even part time, in my case) could be daunting, and exhausting! Speak to your manager about using your keep in touch days to dip your toe into the work environment. Maybe ramping them up to more often as your return date gets closer (in the month before I returned, I was doing one a week). Remember you get paid for them too, which is a bonus! Then when you do return, if you have an abundance of holidays then you could potentially use one day a week to ease yourself in with a shorter working week.
Aim for a handover period and plan.
If possible, try work it so that you can spend a good amount of time with whoever has been covering your role in your absence. It’s good to get a full picture of what’s on the pad and what you will be expected to pick up and run with.
Be transparent and honest about any struggles
Things will feel different to pre-leave, and there’s a chance that you might need some assistance with your role (or your life juggling) especially in the early days. Speak up. Don’t be shy. Ask for help. Whether that’s from your manager, a colleague or one of the HR team. Its best to ask for help rather than struggle in silence and potentially fail. One-fifth of working mothers felt that their bosses and colleagues did not understand what they had been through, both mentally and physically. Maybe more open communication could combat this.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
I know one of my worst traits is that I put too much pressure on myself, both professionally and personally. If you are feeling stressed in the first few weeks back, take a step back and re-evaluate things. Ask yourself if the pressure is coming from external sources (is anyone actually expressing they aren’t happy with your work?). Or more likely, is it coming from yourself? If the latter, give yourself a break.
Review life and career goals.
After a couple of months being back at work, it’s good to evaluate and review your career and life goals. Talk things through with your friends, family, or peers. Are you happy with what you are doing? If not, what can you do to take control and change it?
Right now, you might not be able to imagine doing anything other than changing nappies, endless feeds and having baby cuddles on tap. I know I couldn’t. But now I am 4 months back in the work environment and absolutely loving the balance and contrast between spending time with my family and going into the office where I have the opportunity to have a hot cup of tea that won’t get knocked over!
Good luck on the next stage of your life, you’ve got this.
*Research conducted on 1000 women returning to work after maternity leave by TENA, December 2020.
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