Recently, I shared some thoughts on making a “Mum-back” (here). Today, I’m sharing some more practical tips in coming back to work after an extended period of leave. While these are things I learned and am now applying after returning from my second stint of maternity leave, they could also be worthwhile considering if you’re coming back from a gap year, a study break, a bout of illness, or (more appealingly) extended travel.
First and foremost, just remember to go easy on yourself. You can’t control everything and things don’t always run perfectly to plan. But, with some thoughtful planning, things can run a lot more smoothly. While it can sometimes be hard to set time aside to plan, particularly if, like me, you’re still mired in nappies and feeding schedules, every additional moment of planning can provide you with the clarity and calmness to make your “Mum-back”.
In the weeks and months leading up…
Reconnect with your team
First time around, I felt literally plonked at my desk, totally out of context and like a fish out of water. I was fortunate enough to have another mum in the office take me out for coffee and help me get my bearings back.
This time around, I’ve tried to take the sting out of that first day back by reconnecting with my team in the weeks and months before I was back on deck. I’ve been out to lunch with colleagues, spoken with my supervising partner a few times over the phone, and begun engaging in email threads. As a result, I’m part of the planning for future work opportunities, including an exciting secondment placing, and I’m much readier than I was for Day 1.
What’s more, this reconnecting with your team need not be all uncompensated time. Which leads me to ‘keeping in touch’ days.
Make “keeping in touch” days work for you
In you’re in Australia and the UK, there’s often a provision for you to work up to 10 days while on parental leave to enable you to ‘keep in touch’ and facilitate a return to work. I had no idea about these valuable “keeping in touch” days when I was on parental leave with my first, but I will be using some days later this month to attend some training sessions. There are rules as to the type of work that can be performed so it is best to read up on these.
In Australia, you should check with the Department of Human Services and you can read more about keeping in touch days on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
Dip into industry/association news and updates
The first time around, I pretty much switched off my emails completely and stopped reading industry/association newsletters altogether. In a profession where legislation and regulation is constantly changing, I was a bit lost on my return!
This time around, I’ve been browsing the circulars and updates once a week just to keep myself in the loop. I start from the latest updates and work my way back. It’s nice to be able to refer to a recent development or an important precedent at a ‘keeping in touch’ meeting that may have escaped the attention of your colleagues! I’ve found that there is nothing much better to let your team know that you’re champing at the bit to return.
Put in a call to HR
While your return is the most important thing to you, HR have a million other things to do every day and may not have your return front of mind. This can lead to annoying administrative delays in your first days, rather than letting you focus on getting back into the swing of work.
To grease the internal machinery of your firm, contact HR to let them know of your plans to return wiht specific dates and proposed working days. HR may need to draw up different employment contracts if you plan on returning on a part time basis.
This time around I’ve achieved greater certainty by keeping in touch with my HR department. It has also given them a chance to utilise their full range of skills by introducing me to various return to work support services to assist in my transition back to the office.
One month before…
Lock in care arrangements
This is probably the most stressful part of the Mum-back equation. If you’re like me, a Sydney-sider trying to get your kid into day care, chances are you’ve played the Great Waiting Game! The day care wait lists in Sydney are ridiculously long. My husband and I put our names down on several wait lists of child care centres in our local area when I was pregnant with my first – even before Baby WhatVeeWore had a name!
Ideally, baby should start at childcare centre a few weeks before you return to work to give both you and baby the time to ease into the new care arrangements.
I found it was also reassuring to have a plan about how we would manage sick days when I was back at work. All it takes is one sick kid to turn your world upside down! My husband and I are both lawyers but we have usually been able to manage emergency care arrangements between ourselves thanks to the increased flexibility that comes with some seniority. But, if we’re both stuck at work, we are lucky to be able to rely on extended family to lend a hand.
In the last week, we’ve started our youngest at day care. I won’t lie, it has been an unsettling and emotional time. What I’ve learned though is that when transitioning from being at home full-time to going back to work is that you have to get ride the emotional change as smoothly as you can with an eye to the future. Drop-offs do get easier. Even though it seems at first as if they couldn’t.
Dust off your work wardrobe
One of the great constants about corporate life is the unofficial uniform of corporate clothing. As I explore in this blog, your work wardrobe can be highly individual, creative, and heavily context dependent. But it can also be paralysing. Sometimes the hardest part of the day can be getting out the front door wearing something that lifts your up, rather than dragging you down.
After having my first, my body completely changed. I gave myself a hard time for not fitting into my old clothes and I lost my style confidence. After taking some time, I built this up again (a journey I will share soon in a separate post). This time around, I know I have some reliable pieces (acquired post babies) that I feel good in.
If your budget permits, new work clothes are a sure way to give yourself a boost of confidence as you make your mum-back.
The week before…
Get a final lay of the land
Things can move fast in corporate culture. If you can, catch up with a trusted colleague for a coffee to get a feel for how things are travelling in the office. See what work is currently going around so that you can be ready to pick up the baton when it’s passed to you in the first few days.
This time around, I’ll be popping into the city to catch up with a few colleagues before I start and I might take the opportunity to browse a few shops and check off a few things on my Spring Workwear Wishlist while I’m there!
The night before…
Get some shut eye
This should go without saying… but with all that has been said recently about the importance of sleep to everything we do, it doesn’t hurt to stress it again GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP (the caps are every bit for me!). To do this, know that you’re ready for the next day. Have your outfit laid out and your bag packed (with your lunch too if you’re super organised). While you can’t control if baby cries in the middle of the night, or the neighbours decide to have a Sunday night party, at least you’ve done everything within your power to get quality sleep. So if your best laid plans don’t work out, don’t beat yourself up too much about it if you’re a little tired on your first day back.
Your first day…
Start your first day back like you want to enjoy the ones after. Establish your routine, keep calm and carry on! Even if you’re not looking forward to being squished on a peak hour public transport or sitting in interminable meetings, making a comeback to work is a chance to rediscover the side of you that has been laying dormant these last months and to look great. Good luck. You got this!
Shop my outfit
Knit jumper (similar here)
Skirt (here | similar here, here and here)
Coat (old season, similar here and here)
Heels (similar here and here)
Bag (old season, similar here and here)