Returning to work after Parental Leave: post baby reality vs pregnant expectations
As an HR Manager who didn’t have kids till the late noughties, I remember the advice that I used to give expectant employees. I thought that because I had friends and relations who had recently had kids that I was giving great advice on what to expect with regard to work and parenting, post baby. I would say:
“I know before giving birth people assume they’ll be able to work an 8 hour day from home and look after the baby at the same time, but people tell me it’s much harder that it sounds”. “Even if you have the prefect baby who sleeps all the time, I’ve been told that coming back to work with a baby at home (or in childcare) can be hard emotionally at first”. “Working from home is definitely an option for 1 or 2 days a week, but I’ve been told it’s not a total solution if you don’t use some form of childcare as well”.
And it was all relevant and valid advice. After I had my own babies I realised that while my advice had been pretty accurate, there was much more that I hadn’t known about or taken into consideration because, you know, I hadn’t returned to work from Parental Leave.
It’s tricky coming back to work after the birth of a baby. Whether you are a mother or father in the primary caring role, those first steps back into the workplace after a period of leave looking after a baby, can be filled with uncertainty and challenges.
The uncertainties might be:
How am I going to cope at work when I am already so tired?
Have my workplace needs and wants changed with the birth of my child?
Have my priorities in life changed?
Is my child going to get the right care while I am at work?
Am I being selfish wanting to return to work?
How do I tell my boss that I don’t want to work full time anymore?
Will I be able to cope with the workload they give me?
What if they don’t adjust my workload in line with my reduced hours of work?
My boss is telling me that I’m being moved into a different job, because I’m not as available now I have a child. Is that legal?
My boss appears to be angry that I want to come back to work. The boss think’s I’m being selfish and not considering the needs of the business in asking to come back to work fewer days a week. How do I deal with that?
And the challenges often are:
Employees and Managers not understanding their legal obligations under the Fair Work Act.
Employee’s not fighting for their rights under the Fair Work Act (I get it, you’re tired).
Managers & business owners not caring about their legal obligations to you.
You have difficultly articulating how your needs and wants as an employee have changed
Other workmates resent that you had time off and are now back at work. (It’s not fair that you get a paid holiday just because you had a baby).
You have to fit back into a team that has changed (anywhere from a little to a lot) while you were away, equals a new dynamic.
You have to listen to people say “oh I’d love to have a long weekend every week. It must be so nice to have time off all the time” as if you are enjoying champagne and spa treatments on the days you are not at work.
So how can you reduce the uncertainty and minimise the challenges when returning to work after Parental Leave? I’ll stick to my established blog tradition and provide a list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you manage this important transition.
Understand your rights. If HR or your Manager didn’t give you the information, then get online and start Googling “parental leave rights under the Fair Work Act”. The Fair Work Commission has made it easy and has a downloadable Fact Sheet.
Open a dialog with your manager a couple of months before your return to work date. If your manager isn’t playing ball, ask HR to get involved to help your manager understand your rights, their obligations and why people returning to work from Parental Leave is an amazing bonus for the organisation.
Cut yourself some slack: the first few days and weeks may be hard (especially if there has been significant change while you were away) but you will get there. Celebrate small wins like actually getting into the office at all after a sleepless night (& unaware that you have baby vomit on your shoulder). A small win is still a win and will grow in time.
Make sure you touch base with your manager and HR to ask them for feedback on how the transition is going. Also, at an appropriate time, give feedback to your boss on how the transition felt from your perspective and how it could be improved for the person after you.
Find your tribe: you may have meet other parents who planned on going back to work at “mothers group’ or your organisation may have a networking group of parents who have returned to work, or you may join and online forum. Whatever it is, find your tribe who can support you and offer advice on being a parent and back at work.
Understand what your priorities are now. If they are different figure out how you can explain this to your boss without it resulting in being demoted, sidelined or terminated. This is where your Tribe will come into play. Find someone you can talk to about how to approach this with your Manager
Be aware of and open to change. You know that change is one of life’s few constants. So work out when you can embrace it and when you just have to accept it.
Make sure you have confidence in your childcare provider. It will make your time at work less stressful knowing that Baby is safe and well cared for.
Don’t ignore your rights. Resignation shouldn’t be the only option if you don’t want to go back to your previous full time position. Seek support and guidance to help you stand up for your legal right to return to work.
Don’t let others punish you because they struggle to cope with change. If your Manager or a colleague can’t cope with you coming back to work or the changes occurring in tandem with your return, talk to HR about it so they can support both you and your Manager or colleague.
Don’t be scared. While it may feel so hard at the start, it is like riding a bike. You’ll remember how to balance and be back at top speed again before you know it.