Even for parents who love their profession, returning to work after a period of time at home with young children is not filled with nearly the same excitement as, say, returning from summer hols for the start of a new autumn school term. Never mind that you probably aren’t buying yourself a new satchel or supplies that you get to mark with cute personalised labels. You’ll also have all the emotional baggage that comes with leaving your little one behind and quite possibly difficulties with managers and fellow employees. Those first few weeks are a real balancing act. What can you expect and how can you cope?
In an essay for the Guardian in June 2016, Daniel Godsall relates what led him to start his consulting business, Work, Me, and the Baby, or WOMBA. Godsall had taken leave from his organisation so that his wife could return to work when their son was 6 months old, and in getting to know the mothers in his new-parent group, he learned about the difficulties they faced as they prepared to return to work. His own employer had practically applauded his decision to take advantage of a corporate restructuring period to take parental leave. He was even provided with coaching about his options.
The women returning, on the other hand, not only had no such support, they were openly disrespected by their employers.
“When I asked what support their employers were providing to help them through this difficult time, I was taken aback by their responses. Rather than recognising that returning to work with new responsibilities is challenging enough, their employers were putting obstacles in their way. Without any formal consideration, some had been primed that requests for flexible working were unlikely to be granted. And when one asked for a four-day week, she was told that it would damage her career and instead she should just work from home on her ‘day off’.”
Communicate with managers and colleagues
While Godsall’s firm aims to change this type of attitude, there are some things that women can do in order to ensure they are treated fairly. The most important is to communicate clearly before, during, and after your leave, when you begin your new life as a working parent. Have a friendly discussion prior to your leave that shows you know your rights within UK law. Many employers and employees are unaware of their respective rights and responsibilities.
Set expectations as to communication during your leave; many women actually do want to be kept in the know about what’s happening in their workplace, even if they can’t always respond to email.
As regards flexible working, an employer is required to grant reasonable requests that are properly presented. It might be a difficult conversation, but always remain aware of your worth within the organisation. Parents become remarkably productive workers because they have a new priority waiting for them at the end of the day. If your employer does little to ease your transition or support you in the workplace, you should use your return as simply an opportunity to get back into the workforce and start looking for a position that better suits your needs.
Maybe then you’ll rush out to buy those new agendas and personalised labels to celebrate your new job.