Returning to work from maternity leave

What I didn’t do when I returned from maternity leave (but wished I had done…..)

Retrospection is a wonderful thing!  My own return from maternity leave (in the days when Keeping in Touch days didn’t exist) was a confused mess of logistics and self-doubt.  Getting my head down and ‘catching up’ on what I’d missed was my only priority for my first 6 weeks back.  What I have learnt, however, is that visibility and relationships are much more powerful in getting you initially reintegrated than anything else.

To banish any negative preconceptions that managers may have around returning mothers, make your first priority to nurture the relationship with your manager in those early weeks.  It will take some time to strengthen and re-bond, particularly if you have taken the full year off and if you didn’t keep in touch very much during your maternity leave.

Here are 4 things you can do to boost the relationship with your manager on return from maternity leave:

‘I am back to help’:  Whilst you were away you could say that your lack of presence and valued input added a burden to your manager’s/team’s workload – the great news is that you are now back to take that burden away!  By focussing on the message ‘I can help you’; ‘you don’t need to worry about that, I’ll take care of it’ will give your manager a great confidence boost in your attitude.  Just make sure you don’t overpromise, especially in the early days

‘I can solve that problem’:  Try to find out what your manager’s key concerns and issues are currently.  Think of ways to solve them and make suggestions.  Statements such as ‘I can understand how that is making things difficult’ can help reduce the feeling of isolation many managers face.  Asking ‘is there anything I can do to support?’ will ensure you come across as committed and empathetic, even if there is nothing you can do.  You will bond a lot quicker if your actions match their priorities

Sell yourself: make sure your objectives are formally agreed and set early on, even more important if you are part-time.  If you are new to part-time work, agree to review your objectives regularly.  Keep track of everything you do and always think in terms of output – what you achieved and what impact you have made.  Consider periodically sending 3 types of emails, which intend to: inform; update on progress; include results

‘I am more productive now’:  As a working parent, no doubt needing to be out on time for the nursery pick-up or bed-time routine, our time management ability needs to be honed to perfection.  The first activity of the day should be to write your to-do list (if you haven’t already completed it the night before or on the train on the way in), then number each task, number 1 being the ‘must do whatever before I leave’

By literally being the role model we want to see of becoming working parents who are actively doing well at work but still seeing their families, we will eventually find that doors will open for us.  Optimistic in some organisations, yes, but I am a great fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ approach – getting stuck in regardless of those around us who have not yet fully appreciated and recognised the crucial contribution of the working parent.

Helen Letchfield, Co-Founder of P&P Coaching, can be contacted via email

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