10 tips for returning to ‘work’ after parental leave
As a mom of three, I’ve returned to ‘work’ on several occasions. Let’s get something straight before I go any further, going on parental leave does not mean you’re having a break from ‘work’ altogether. Being a parent is also ‘work’ — really hard work actually (albeit changing diapers, feeding little humans, changing more diapers, and lots of giggles and cuddles in between). So let’s call it ‘returning to the workplace’ from here on out.
A bit about my experience returning to the workplace after parental leave
When I left my full-time job to go on parental leave for the first time, I thought I’d be ready and able to come back to the workplace in the same capacity as I left it. (Oh, how wrong I was!) After only a few months into my paid parental leave, I realized that going back to work full-time in the ‘regular’ hours of 9-5 was not something that was going to work for me. My workplace was over an hour away (in good traffic), my husband’s job was not flexible, and the stress I was feeling about making it all work was overwhelming.
Where did that leave me? Frantically googling ‘Flexible work’, ‘Work from home jobs’, and ‘Jobs for moms’. (I’ll pause to insert eye roll here, because what jobs aren’t for moms?) But I was getting desperate and even considered starting my own business just so that I could have the flexibility to work around my family… naïve, I know. At that time, googling ‘flexible work’ only resulted in part-time and casual work, which was not what I was looking for. And typing in ‘jobs for moms’ just brought up pyramid businesses, which I was not interested in. I felt as though I was going to have to throw away my skills, experiences, and settle for a job doing anything and everything, just to have the flexibility I needed.
That was until I found WORK180, which is dedicated to helping women choose a workplace where they can thrive. By joining the WORK180 team, I now not only have a flexible and fulfilling role of my own but am empowering other women with the knowledge they need to do the same.
So, what are my top tips for women returning to the workplace after parental leave?
1. Make sure you know your rights as an employee returning to the workplace
Great employers ensure their team members are aware of their legal rights when it comes to parental leave and returning to the workplace… but not all employers are ‘great’. Don’t rely on your employer to provide you with this important information; do your research. A good place to start is by reading:
- United States of America | Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) | U.S. Department of Labor
- Australia | Returning to work from parental leave
- United Kingdom | Employee rights when on leave
2. Ask for a return to the workplace plan (and make sure it’s flexible)
Before going on parental leave, be sure to ask:
- for your return date to be flexible;
- to have conversations about your return to the workplace throughout your leave;
- for information on what your company’s ‘return to workplace’ program offers.
And don’t be afraid to ask for flexible working arrangements when you return. For tips on how to do this, take a look at our guide on how to ask for flexible working:
3. Stay in touch during your parental leave
Maintaining the conversation with your employer throughout your parental leave is important for both you and your team. It can help with feelings of distance or ease any concerns you may have about keeping up with changes in the workplace. Crucially, regular communication will give you the opportunity to discuss any changes you may want to make to your ‘return to the workplace’ plan.
4. Know that feeling guilty during or after parental leave is normal
Ah, the mom guilt. Yes, it definitely is a thing, but it’s not something that you need to let take over your decisions and dictate your life. Just know that you’re not alone: all moms feel guilt (more often than we should). Remember to acknowledge your feelings, remind yourself of the amazing job you’re doing, and move on.
- ‘I was too tired to read to my kids last night. I’m a terrible mom’. You’re not.
- ‘I was later than normal picking my daughter up from daycare’. She was having a great time.
- ‘I forgot it was a dress-up day at school so I had to throw something together last minute.’ He loved his completely unique costume while learning a lesson in creativity and resourcefulness.
5. Coordinate your daycare and return to the workplace plan wisely
Your first day back in the workplace may feel overwhelming. So will your first day dropping off your child at daycare — don’t try to do both on the same day. (I made this mistake my first time around and, let me tell you, it was a disaster.)
If you can, spend some time settling into a routine with daycare and developing a routine before you return to the workplace. Remember, it isn’t always going to be smooth sailing and that’s ok.
6. Seek support: You don’t have to do it all alone
Ever heard the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? Well, it’s true. Parenting can be hard work and there’s no shame in needing a helping hand from good friends or family members.
For example, just asking a relative to be an additional emergency contact for your child’s daycare can be a big relief; now you can go to work with the peace of mind that if you, your partner, or co-parent get stuck at work, you have a backup plan. Seriously, now is not the time to think you have to do it all on your own, you don’t.
7. Don’t concede to imposter syndrome (and remember it’s not your fault if you do)
Imposter syndrome is that feeling of uncertainty in your own abilities and a belief that you don’t deserve your success. Where does it come from? According to Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York, it happens:
“When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or undeserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind.”
This explanation makes it clear why ‘imposter syndrome’ impacts so many women, especially those from underrepresented groups. And with the additional stigmas, stereotypes, and pressures facing ‘working moms’, it’s unsurprising if your confidence is low after an extended break from the workplace.
Don’t forget, you’re just as valuable in the workplace as you were before you had kids. If anything, you are even more valuable now with the new transferable skills you have gained. With change comes growth, new learnings, and new perspectives.
8. Working people need to set boundaries and take them seriously
When you return to the workplace, it’s easy to feel like you need to prove your worth and overcompensate — don’t do it to yourself!
Your health, well-being, and, therefore, your performance will benefit by setting and adhering to strong boundaries from the start. For example, if you need to leave to make it to daycare pick up, then leave. Don’t stay out of guilt or fear of judgment; by adhering to your boundaries, you’re able to create a positive work-life balance for yourself — and setting an example for others to do the same.
9. Celebrate the time you spend raising your family
For those that choose to take extended parental leave, don’t give in to the feeling that you must disguise or play down the time you spent raising a family. When searching and applying for jobs, embrace this time away from the workplace and recognize what you’ve learned from it. In your resume and interviews, talk about the transferable skills you gained, your growth, and your personal development.
10. Don’t settle! There are amazing employers that value parents
If you do find yourself in a position of needing to find a job after starting a family, know that there are flexible jobs out there with employers that value you and appreciate your needs. And don’t rule out applying for a full-time job just because you need flexible hours! So many employers are open to flexible working arrangements, you just need to know where to look. Here’s a big hint: you can find them at WORK180 – Jobs that work for women.
WORK180 has your back when it comes to job searching. We’ve asked the hard questions for you to ensure our Endorsed Employers are proud to support diversity, inclusion, and flexibility — and most importantly, your success. To view and apply for roles with Endorsed Employers for All Women, visit the WORK180 job board.