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Congratulations! You’ve Had a Baby!

“Having your baby is likely to be the most wonderful, challenging, love-filled and life changing time of your life. Now that you’ve had months of beautiful bonding with your baby, stressing over sleeping schedules and taking a million pictures, you’re due to return to work,” says Sunna Gissurardottir, an executive coach at Future Proof Learning. Sunna had her daughter in 2022 and returned to work this spring, so this blog reflects her own experience.

“You might be filled with excitement – longing for something else to think about other than nappies and milk, using a part of your brain that has not had much action in the last 6-12 months. Or the thought of returning to work might be a daunting prospect, questions of how this will impact your baby, will you be as effective at your job as before? Or maybe you’re feeling a combination of both,” Sunna continues.

A study conducted by TENA (a leading incontinence products manufacturer) found that a third of the 1000 women they surveyed (27%) felt excited, over half (52%) expressed worry over the return and over a third (37%) confessed that they were dreading returning to work.

That means that 89% of the women surveyed having negative thoughts and emotions about returning to work after having a baby.

The degree to which you feel comfortable and ready to return to work depends on a myriad of factors: childcare arrangements, life routine, nature of your work and hours, to name but a few. What can make a significant difference is how supported you are made to feel by your workplace and managers in making the transition back to work.

What Can Managers and Organisations Do to Support Employees Returning from Maternity Leave?

One of the most beneficial ways to support an employee’s return to work is simply to ask them what support they need. Ask questions about their concerns, what they’re excited about, what is the most important thing for them. Try to get as much information from them as possible so to understand their perspective and avoid any unconscious bias or assumptions.

Start the conversations in good time – you don’t want them to suffer in silence and worry about things that might not be the reality. Have open and honest conversations about expectations – theirs and yours. Keeping the communication open and as frequent as they need (the last thing they’ll need is to feel bombarded but enough communication so they know they can reach out!)

Your ability and capacity, as a manager, to support can also lie within the policies and procedures of the organisations for which you work. As managers, you do not have a magic wand nor can you grant every wish. The policies to which you work can create boundaries and limitations. However, the view you have for the policies can make a huge difference – are they absolute or can they be used as flexible guidelines?

There might be lots of things you can’t do, so focus on what you can do. As a minimum – let’s empathise with our employees if policies restrict us from being able to offer everything they need. Acknowledge it’s difficult and you’ll do everything you can do to help them within the constraints. An empathetic approach can work wonders.

Please join our webinar Maternity Leave: Managing the Transition Back to Work on 22nd August at 10am – we’d love to hear your views.

The Reality of Returning to Work

Every day, thousands of women across the world return to work after maternity leave. But, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean the process is easy.

If you imagine how you feel about coming back to work after being away on holiday for 2 weeks – you might be thinking about what you’ve missed, how you’re going to settle back into your normal routine and you might also dread it a bit.

Now imagine that you’ve been off for 10 months, you’ve had the life-changing and mind-altering experience of having a baby. You’re not only thinking about what you’ve missed and how you’re going to settle into the new routine – you’ve actually changed as a person. You have new and different priorities, you’ve got a new way of looking at life and the world, you have someone in your life now who is more important than anyone or anything else.

Sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences can have a profound effect – if we can talk more openly about the challenge of starting work again. When people asked me about my feelings about going back to work after my maternity leave, I would say “I’m so excited”, “I can’t wait to not think about nappies and having something else to think about”.

Sunna continues: “And it was true, I was ready to start work again. But I quickly became frustrated with the pace at which I was working, how things that came to me quickly before were now taking more effort and thinking. I couldn’t let go of the napping and feeding schedule – I’d message my husband to check if my baby girl had slept.

“Not only was I thinking about my baby’s whole routine, I was also trying to retrain my brain to get into work mode. Not to mention the sleep deprivation on top of all that. So it wasn’t that I was able to not think about nappies and baby routine, it was that I was thinking about that and also about work tasks and projects.

“Perhaps somewhat naively, I thought I could leave the “mummy” at home but of course, once you’re a mother you’re always a mother. But that might come with time, I’ll get more comfortable leaving my daughter and will let go of the need to control her routine so strictly. But it was much too soon for that. I realised after a conversation with my manager where I described my struggles with recalling things that used to be automatic and finding it hard to get into “flow” at work. I was putting pressure on myself to be who I was before I left – because that’s what “return to work” suggests.”

The term “returning to work” suggests that you are coming back to what it was before, which is simply not the case. The term I would invite everyone to consider is “starting work”. This small change in terminology reflects a much more accurate view – you are starting work after a monumental change to your life and personality. Perhaps this can help to alleviate pressure to return as the person we were before and help our managers and peers to understand our perspective a little better.

I’m not suggesting every woman’s whole identity has changed since becoming a mother – but for some it might have and it’s imperative for managers to understand the degree to which we feel different. For me, it felt like a new aspect to my personality – I wasn’t a new person but I was certainly a different one. Starting work again as a different person isn’t a bad thing, and likely to be a good thing.

But we can’t minimize the struggles women feel in starting work again – we need to take time to understand their unique perspective. Every mother’s experience is different. Some will relish getting back to work and won’t experience the emotions that others will in leaving their child in nursery or with a member of their family. They’ll actually be able to turn their “mummy brain” off and let someone else take control of the routine. And that’s ok too. Starting work again won’t be a negative experience for every mother. So, get to know your colleagues’ specific needs and help them to rejoin the workplace in a way that works for them and you will have a much happier and engaged employee who feels valued. This will lead to a higher likelihood of career progression after having a baby – which we know is also an important topic. But, we’ll save that for another day.

Want to know more about transitioning back to work as a mother or as a manager supporting a mother? We will be hosting a webinar where you can share your experience, hear from others and join in the discussion on this important topic. And hopefully learn a thing or two! Please join our webinar Maternity Leave: Managing the Transition Back to Work on 22nd August at 10am – we’d love to see you there.

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