Returning to work after having a baby can be rough, and there’s no perfect path. But some pre-planning and open conversations with your employer can make re-entering professional life a little less bumpy. Gabriela Matias, People Partner and D&I Lead at one of WORK180’s endorsed employers GoCardless, shares her tips to help make the transition back to work after parental leave as smooth as possible.
1. Have an honest conversation with your employer
Whether you’ve taken 12 weeks or 12 months off, going back to work after having a baby is a big adjustment. It takes time to learn how to balance the needs of your child and employer, as well as those of your own.
As you get ready to return to work, be prepared to have an open conversation with your manager about your needs, priorities and concerns.
“Some of the most important conversations between the employee and employer during this transition is about aligning expectations and needs,” says Matias.
2. Consider your work schedule
Think about any adjustments to your work schedule that would help you manage your home and work commitments.
“Do you need different working hours to accommodate child care runs? Or would you benefit from gradually returning to work, working from home or other flexible work arrangements?” Matias asks.
Are you still breastfeeding? Will you be pumping in the office? If so, talk to your employer about where you can pump in the workplace, how you can fit this into your working day and make sure you’ve blocked the time out in your calendar.
Agree on a work schedule with your employer and get any logistical concerns out of the way.
“By having a plan, you can create clarity and reduce ambiguity in what can be a stressful time.”
It’s also a good idea to do some practice runs. Go through your morning routine of getting ready for work, do the child care drop-off and commute to work. Having just welcomed his second child, David Barnes, Senior Director of Reward at King, explains that those first few days back at work are always tough.
“You miss your kids,” he says. “We make sure we have breakfast together as a family every morning and I drop my older son to nursery. Then in the evenings I do my best to leave on time, so I can help out at bath time and read them stories. I think that’s really important.”
3. Re-familiarise yourself with the workplace
A few weeks before you’re scheduled to return to work, arrange a formal or casual catch-up with your manager or colleagues to reacquaint yourself with the workplace and what’s happened while you’ve been away.
If your employer has a formal re-onboarding program, make sure you’re taking up the opportunities presented to you. Staying connected to the workplace can help make that first day so much less daunting.
At GoCardless, employees on parental leave are invited to key organisation updates, kept up to date with any new benefits and put on an individual re-onboarding plan.
“Our managers prepare a plan so that the employee can be gradually brought up to speed with the team and what’s happened while they’ve been away,” explains Matias. “This could be outlining new projects, introducing new faces or explaining any new rituals in the team.”
For Barnes, he stayed connected to the workplace in a different way during his 11 weeks of paternity leave.
“I didn’t opt to take any keep-in-touch days during my parental leave, but I did keep on top of emails and urgent items that came up in brief moments of peace between nappy changes, feeding, cleaning, etc,” he says. “Although there was no expectation from King for me to do this.”
4. Connect with other new parents
If available, join any workplace support groups, so you can connect with colleagues who are going through similar experiences. Such communities can provide a great source of support and mentoring during both the transition back to work and becoming a parent.
“We have created a Slack channel for our Parents’ & Legal Guardians’ community. New parents and carers use it to get ideas, tips and support when coming back to work and beyond,” says Matias. “It’s also a great place to share photos and fun stories.”
5. Keep talking to your employer
Once you’re back at work, it may take some time for you to get back into the swing of things, and that’s ok. Just be honest with yourself – and with your employer.
“A manager shouldn’t assume that a new parent doesn’t want to focus on career progression, but equally the manager needs to understand and support the employee if their priorities have shifted,” says Matias.
“This should be a continuous conversation to understand the support the employee needs as they make their journey as a parent.”
6. Be kind to yourself
Remember that returning to work after having a baby is a huge transition – don’t be too hard on yourself. Accept that there may be some bumps in the road as your navigate this new world.