Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we are living in 2013. Despite the advances in workplace legislation, a study conducted just this month on parenting website NetMums found that nearly three quarters of women feared for their jobs when they took maternity leave. If laws are in place to prevent discrimination, why do we still feel anxious about work when we take time out to have a child?
Looking after a new baby can be enormously stressful, and by the time the baby is six months old (the period at which “ordinary” maternity leave ends), mothers can still be experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, as well as other physical side effects of pregnancy and giving birth. There are also psychological effects, which include coming to terms with your new identity as a mother (and the impact this shifting role may have on your relationship), and reevaluating your sense of what’s important in life.
For many women, returning to work after having a baby isn’t an option, but an economic necessity. It can be very tempting while on maternity leave to think it’s a long time away and therefore not worry about going back to work until the time comes, but I would gently advise against such an attitude. The office may seem light years away when you’re talking teething at mother and baby groups, but engaging properly with your workplace can save a lot of stress in comparison with leaving things until the last minute.
A number of years ago I completed a piece of research with an employee of a well known Insurance company. She and I were looking at the possible changes in self esteem returning to work might cause after maternity leave. We discovered some interesting facts, hence my 6 point plan to help you get back to work set out below. One of the ladies returned to find the Security guard wouldn’t let her in the building because he didn’t know who she was; another returned to a willing Boss but no desk and no phone for a few hours whilst everyone shuffled around to accommodate her, and a third returned and felt such loss at being without her baby that she changed her mind and left the company. It’s very hard to adjust for some and not something we should assume everyone will do easily.
Here’s my six-point plan then for ‘Taking the Stress out of Going Back to Work’: –
- Plan ahead. Before you go on leave, find out every detail of your organisation’s maternity policy. How long do they offer full pay? What kind of arrangements do other colleagues with young children have? What have been the experiences of other people who took maternity leave from them and what is the attitude your Boss has to the idea? Get a sense of your company’s policy and culture – this will help manage your expectations and give you an indication of what you can expect on your return.
- Take advantage of KIT (keeping in touch) days. It can be tempting to avoid any thoughts of work, especially if you’re still in the babymoon phase, but it’s good for your manager and team to know that you still consider yourself part of the company. It speaks volumes for you if you remain as interested as you can and it speaks volumes from them if they invite you in. It can also be good to rediscover a part of “you” that can get lost in the early months and years of mothering. Baby care can be quite overwhelming, and a few days of shifting focus entirely can be refreshing and even enjoyable. At the very least remain on a database or mailing list so that your department and the company can send you brochures, policies and details of interest. This is particularly important if you were working on a project where there are regular changes in Government data or legislation.
- Decide what you want. If you have some flexibility within your financial situation, what would you like your working life to look like? Would you like to work school-hours only, or three days a week? Some people are able to compress a full working week into four long days, while others negotiate term-time only contracts. The culture (and, to a large extend, whether you work for the private or public sector) will determine how amenable your employer is to such requests. But presenting your ideal working scenario can be a good starting point for negotiations. You need to be sure to see things from their perspective, so present a good business case for your proposal, showing you’ve taken their concerns into account.
- Know your rights. Women who come back from ordinary maternity leave (six months) have the right to return to their previous job. If you take the full year (additional maternity leave), you can return to your old job (if it still exists) or another similar in pay, benefits and status. You also have the right to request part-time hours. If you suspect you are being discriminated against, or you are having difficulties communicating with your employer while on maternity leave, contact your union rep (if you have one) or HR department.
- If you are self-employed, try to make sure you take adequate time to rest and bond with your baby before plunging back into hunting for new business leads and working around the clock to meet client deadlines. Additional worries for the self-employed include the belief or reality that clients “forget” who you are, and the knowledge that every day taken after your maternity allowance runs out is a day without pay. Client relationships can also be fragile and Heads of Departments can move on leaving you stranded without the good will to connect with their replacement. Perseverance and an attitude that this could have happened at any time anyway, is the best way to handle this I believe otherwise there’s a tendency to take it personally. Make sure you have adequate childcare in place before taking on any new contracts though (those who can genuinely work while the baby sleeps or plays happily in a corner are few and far between, in my experience). Also, try to get out and about as much as possible – working alone can be pretty isolating at the best of times and if you’ve spent the last six months in the company of an infant you might benefit from some adult interaction.
- Look after yourself. Your body has experienced huge changes, from pregnancy and childbirth to (possibly) breastfeeding and the demands of caring for a newborn 24/7. You need to factor in time for relaxation and something that makes you feel that life isn’t all work and no play. Admittedly this is very hard, especially in the early days when you may feel that everyone wants a piece of you. But eating well and exercising (where possible) will keep your energy levels high. And remember, you can’t please everybody, all the time. Some days you’ll struggle to just get through it, keeping yourself and your baby in one piece. But cut yourself some slack and take each day as it comes. There are some other great tips on getting back to work on Mumsnet:
And courtesy of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/09/30/pregnancy-jeopardises-career-prospects-workers-fear.aspx
We can’t all be celebrities with easy lives, personal trainers & Nannies, but we can get a ‘working’ relationship with our jobs as long as we recognize things may have changed both for us and for them. Therefore, try to rise above frustrations both at home and at work. For the most part people want you to be happy but it might need to be as much up to you to make this happen as it is up to them to make you welcome.
I wish you luck and let me know your thoughts, best wishes, Sue